We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Enthused and excited

Samain                                                         Bare Aspen Moon

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

I got excited before my presentation at Beth Evergreen. It felt substantial and unique, so I was eager to see what others would think. There were three of us presenting last night. Anshel talked about the mezuzah and its correlation to the tree of life. CC presented Maslow’s hierarchy and laid it over the tree of life. It fits well. Seeing both of them wrestle with their material and its fit with the tree of life reinforced our learnings and gave us new insights.

Anshel, for example, explained that the placement of the mezuzah on the door post relates to the four worlds of the kabbalah and should be placed at the bottom of the top third of the doorway. The mezuzah protects against demons and will protect the whole house. It guards space and reminds us that the space about to be entered is holy.

maslow mysticsCC’s work with Maslow sparked a conversation about the difference between human agency in moving up the pyramid as opposed to the necessity of God’s agency. Within my worldview this is a false dichotomy, but the conversation was fruitful. It’s a false dichotomy to me for two reasons. 1. How else would God move someone up the pyramid save through human agency? 2. Since I see energy moving up and down the tree of life, from the invisible to the visible and back through the visible to the invisible, this energy flow is the key agency involved, imh. I might call it chi, or prana, or l’chaim. Could also call it divine or vitality or consciousness. I don’t see that adding God to the conversation accomplishes much.

I got antsy during these two presentations, wanting to be sure I had enough time. I wanted the conversation over with. Not my finest hour. I’d gotten myself so enthused that I really wanted to see how people would react to my ideas. A teachable moment for me. I did reenter the moment during both presentations and was proud of myself for being able to.

When my turn came, it was past 8 pm and we usually end at 8:30. We quit around 8:45 or 8:50, so I ended up with plenty of time. The conversation was eager and engaged. Debra said the ideas “gave her chills” and Rabbi Jamie said it was fascinating. Because I didn’t outline my ideas, they flowed better, but I did leave out some key material.

foolIn the end I felt heard and honored for my understanding of the relationship between the cyclical turn of the seasons and the meaning of the tree of the life to kabbalists.

This is a unique place, Beth Evergreen. I’m accepted as a full member of the community, in every meaningful sense, yet I’m on a divergent spiritual path from nearly every one else.

Reconstructionist Judaism and I approach religious matters in an oddly similar way, looking for the fit with real life, for the way to articulate ancient knowledge in a contemporary idiom. We share, in other words, a way of thinking about religion, though we do not share starting points. That’s tremendously exciting to me.

Add in, then, the kabbalist’s contention that all torah is metaphor and I find myself able to learn from the thousands of years of Jewish thought while maintaining my status as a fellow traveler.

pilgrimSince I have long believed that the world’s religions are philosophy and poetry accessible to all, I remain eager to learn from them. Since I know their claims cannot all be true, I choose to remain outside them, yet to walk with them as part of my journey. During college, when fellow students were turning to Asian faiths: the hare krishnas, zen, tibetan mysticism, I believed that the religious traditions of the West were most culturally attuned to the American mind. I still believe that and find Judaism and its traditions and thoughts, like Christianity, trigger a depth of understanding I don’t get from the Asian faiths.

That’s not to say that zen, tibetan thought, and particularly for me, taoism, don’t have lessons and insights, too. Of course, they do. But, for me, acculturated in the Judaeo-Christian West, I find I learn best from within my cultural framework broadly defined.

 

The Great Wheel and the Ten Sephirot

Samain                                                                        Bare Aspen Moon

SamainThink I’ve figured out my kabbalah presentation. Still a bit rough around the edges but that’s going to be part of it. It’ll be a how to think with the tree of the life as a touchstone example, using the Great Wheel as an instance.

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks trying to figure out whether or not I’m trying to put the cliched square peg in a round hole. That is, can the Great Wheel be interpreted from within the tree of life’s basic framework? Or, vice versa.

My tentative conclusion right now? Yes, they both speak to  the same essence, to a fundamental truth about the nature of reality as we humans experience it. Both abstractions focus us on the dynamic of life arising from the inanimate and returning the borrowed elements to the inanimate at the end of a cycle. We could call it entropy, but entropy does not have the revivifying element of both the tree of life and the Great Wheel.

sephirothshiningonesThis a crucial difference between a secular, scientific world view and a mystical one. Entropy posits, as I mentioned in a post not long ago, that all things die, including death, I suppose. The Great Wheel and the tree of life challenge that grim metaphysics with an alternative.

In the tree of life emanations from the keter, or crown, flow down through the ten sephirot, emerging after a journey through possibilities and limitations, into malchut, the realm of the Shekinah or the feminine aspect of the divine. This is the daily reality you and I experience. Rabbi Jamie uses the illustration of a fountain with metal leaves (the sephirot) that catch the emanations, then direct the flow downward toward malchut. This could be entropic. Divine emanations could flow down to malchut, exist there for awhile, then simply disintegrate, disappear. Or, they could all flow down to malchut until it was filled, then the flow would stop. The heat death of the universe could be seen as such a result for the big bang.

But this fountain flows both ways. Malchut, as Rabbi Jamie explains it, is also a pump and the fountain sends water (divine energy) back up the tree of the life, returning it to the ein sof, the infinite oneness. Repeat until God is repaired.

tzimtzum_classicGod became fractionated during the tzimtzum, the contraction of divine energy that made the finite possible. This idea is still difficult for me, but I’m just accepting it for the purposes of this presentation. During the tzimtzum the infinite light, ohr, tried to manifest in the finite, filling the space created by the contraction, but the vessel, things, (ein sof = no-things, infinity) could not hold it and shattered. That shattering created all the elements that now make up our universe. (and other universes, too) Trapped inside all of these elements is the ohr. The ascent and descent of divine energy, from the keter to malchut and backup through the sephirot to the keter from malchut, is the way the ohr will once again join with the infinite. How? No clue.

OK. So how does this correlate, if at all, with the Great Wheel? The Great Wheel divides into two halves, a fallow half beginning at Samain and ending at Beltane when the growing season begins. That’s roughly from October 31st to May 1st on the Gregorian calendar, but of course the reality varies by latitude and altitude. The key thing to consider here is a growing time, a time of vitality and, not only vitality, but vitality created from the inanimate materials of soil, air and sun followed by a fallow time when plants die back, when the animate returns to the inanimate.

slinkyThis is a malchutian manifestation, I think, of the ascent and descent and ascent again of divine energy represented by the tree of life. Why? Well, until the divine energy passes through yesod and becomes real in malchut, it is hidden, invisible, just like the vivifying function of the soil and the air and the sun is hidden during the fallow time. Both represent the cyclical nature of things coming into existence from apparent no-thing, then returning themselves to the invisible, the hidden.

Whereas the summer solstice could be seen as a major holiday for malchut, so the winter solstice could be seen as a major holiday for the keter and the ein sof. The summer solstice is a celebration of growth and fertility, the winter solstice a celebration of darkness and hiddenness, the depth (or height) of the nine sephirot and their crown.

Now it could be said, and I have said, that the Great Wheel represents cyclical time and that the notion of time itself is a matter of mental organization for the human mind. It could also be said that the very nature of the Great Wheel limits it to malchut since it expresses the seasonal changes of our particular planet. I believe, at least right now, though, that the Great Wheel instead reveals the universal nature of life on our planet, in malchut, as a simulacrum of the energy paths of the tree of life.

Planetary_Motion_SpiralThe slinkys I will hand out, tiny one-inch ones, illustrate what I mean. The Great Wheel turns through one year, one orbit around the sun, then repeats and is, in that, cyclical and not chronological. But, if you link this orbit to that one we get a spiral as our rapidly moving planet follows our solar system around the galaxy at unimaginable rates of speed. The Great Wheel then extends in space, in a spiral, this year’s revolution becoming another while the whole planet and its sun captive neighbors push further and further around the Milky Way. And, just to add complexity, as the whole galaxy moves, too.

 

Spaced Out

Samain                                                                     Bare Aspen Moon

M31

M31

Not trying to do this, but last night, before I fell asleep the subject was space. The first three kabbalah classes are titled: soul, space, time. The other night I got caught up in the concept of time. I realize my thinking on these matters is probably naive relative to, say, astrophysics, but I’m trying thought experiments to come to my own understanding. I’m trying to read the book of the universe on my own, pursuing what Emerson called original revelation to us.

So here was the thought experiment on space. Imagine space as a large box. Or disc. Or sphere, whatever object. Now. Remove all the objects in it. All the galaxies. All the stars in the galaxies. All the planets. All the debris traveling anywhere. All the black holes. Everything. So now we have a large, empty universe. There is, I think, at this point, nothing but space. No thing.

empty-spaceEmpty. No way to know where you are because there are no reference points. Only empty space. But. This amount of space is contained by the limits of the universe. (I’m pretty sure this experiment violates some way of understanding the universe. An edge to the universe seems difficult to comprehend, but let me have this small-ok, large-conceit.) Now we put back in all the stuff. The things. Right back where they were.

We still have the same amount of space. It was empty and now it’s filled, but the space itself did not increase or decrease. So, then space itself is not a property of the things, it is  sui generis. In other words space itself is not the gap between objects, it has nothing to do with objects, since we had all of it still when the universe was emptied. So when we move objects further apart we are not creating more space, just as when we move objects closer together we are not closing off space. The amount of space is a constant.

einstein-einstein-quotesThis means, I think, that space as we use the term in day to day life is actually about relationship, not stillness and not emptiness. In other words the amount of space remains constant, yet we perceive space as relational, the gap between things. Space is used as a way of understanding relationships, actually, of perceiving other objects, because without space to differentiate objects everything would mush together to a somehow independent observer.

So try this, too. Imagine a square meter of space, imagine it in a place between galaxies. Now try to find it relative to another square meter of space. Nope. Can’t do that. Without objects to create points of reference space itself will not differentiate. That means that though space is vast and changeless, it can only come into conscious awareness when it is filled with objects, things. So no-thing can only be known in relation to some-thing. Space is relational, yet we don’t change it as we move through it. We can only understand, comprehend, perceive space as a gap between things. No-things, then, we might say, no space.

Does this mean that our original thought experiment fails? Does space exist sui generis or is it only about relationships, about perceiving? I’m inclined to say that space is not a thing at all because its most basic definition is undifferentiation, yet it is impossible for us to know space, anything really, if it cannot be differentiated from other things. Therefore space must not be a thing, but a matter of consciousness, some-thing that springs into existence when we see this in relation to that.

Oh, geez. I may have lost myself here. I’m going to post this and leave it for awhile. Come back to this at another point. I’m going to give this whole thought experiment some space.

Chronos

Samain                                                                     Bare Aspen Moon

Found by friend Tom Crane.

Our story

The Raw and The Cooked

Samain                                                                           Bare Aspen Moon

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Samain                                                                    Joe and Seoah Moon

Walrus-Carpenter, John Tenniel

Walrus-Carpenter, John Tenniel

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

There Is No End of History

Samain                                                                           Joe and SeoAh Moon

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

Sky, near infrared

Sky, near infrared

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Samain                                                      Joe and SeoAh Moon

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

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

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

Canterbury_Cathedral_Cloisters,_Kent,_UK_-_Diliff.jpg

Canterbury Cathedral Cloisters, Kent, UK. Diliff

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

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

Meridian Gate, Forbidden City, West Wing

Meridian Gate,
Forbidden City, West Wing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Language of the Dumb

Samain                                                                      Joe and SeoAh Moon

moon-to-the-moonWhen Kate and I came home from the Gary Hart presentation on Sunday night, the moon, nearly full, rode low on the horizon, huge and white, half covered by scudding clouds. It then played with us like a bubble dancer, grabbing this cumulus and that one to cover itself, showing more then less of the old man on its face. After the horizon was no longer visible the moon shone through the lodgepole pines of the Arapaho National Forest, illuminating this home to wild critters as we climbed the mountains on our way to Black Mountain Drive.

The everyday and everynight beauty of these mountains still makes my heart sing, now almost three full years into this move. Yesterday coming up Shadow Mountain Drive, it came to me that I was learning the rhythms here, driving with more confidence because it was daytime and the deer, the elk normally show up at dawn and dusk. At that exact moment, as this thought came to me, a movement on the shoulder caught my eye. A fox. A healthy red-orange fox with a huge bushy tail had started out to cross the road, noticed me coming and paused. The mountains had spoken.

1509361960968The language, the speech of the inanimate and the dumb, is all around us, sending us clear messages. Dogs are an obvious example. The longer you live with dogs, especially multiple dogs, the more their language becomes clear. The lean, the movement toward a door, the excited dance, the playful bow, the bark of warning, the one of joy. Friend Bill Schmidt, a farmer as well a nuclear engineer and cyber mage, has told me of dairy cattle and their affections.

As a gardener, the soil communicated with me through the health or dis-ease of the plants Kate and I grew. If the leaves were less than a deep green, I suspected missing soil nutrients and worked to correct them. The plants themselves told me when they were too dry with droopy leaves, when they needed pruning with too many branches or stalks, when they were ready to yield their work for the season.

On a more mystical level three mule deer visited me on the Samain afternoon when I first came to this house. We stood, eye to eye, for several minutes as they told me they lived here, were my neighbors, that we would be together after that moment, that we were welcome. They came not for feed or attention, but as emissaries, messengers, angels of the mountain and the forest.

The sky tells us what weather comes, then delivers it to us, helping us gauge the nature of our changing climate. In this same way people we meet communicate to us through body language, a hunched shoulder, a slight turn away, eyes that light on some aspect of a room. All around us language, everywhere communication. If only we see.

Yes And No

Fall                                                               Joe and SeoAh Moon

ein sof

ein sof

Kabbalah. Spinning, spiraling, dancing. A curiously long lived wrecking crew barely known even to the tribe that gave it birth. Long lived because its roots may well be in an oral tradition forbidden to be written down, an oral tradition that extends centuries before the destruction of the second temple in 70 c.e. There is no way to know if that’s true. It surfaces in written literature during the middle ages, around the 1200’s in Spain.  Like the mishnah before it, the impetus for writing kabbalistic thought down was a fear that the knowledge would be lost due to persecution, the dispersal and/or death of the rabbis who carried the knowledge.

As a wrecking crew this line of thought systematically dismantles whatever it is you think you know, about life, about the cosmos, and scripture. Let me give you an example of this last. When Abraham takes his son Isaac to altar as a sacrifice, the story is not about Abraham and Isaac, but about two key energy channels coursing through all the worlds that are: Yes and No, Faith and Will. So. Faith takes Will as a sacrifice, at what it thinks is the command of the ein sof, the infinite one behind and within all. This is yes saying yes without regard for consequences. The angel, the messenger, says No, Faith, no affirmation is worth the sacrifice of choice. There are limits in the world. Take this ram as a substitute and preserve your ability to choose wisely. At least this is my version using what I know now.

fools-journey-kabbalah

fools journey kabbalah

Rabbi Jamie says that when a kabbalist reads the Torah, and I imagine the megillah and the Psalms and the prophets and other sacred books, they do not see stories about individuals but stories about the key metaphors for understanding existence. This is a truly radical inversion of the religious story that seems to be told in the Tanakh.

In fact, here’s one more step beyond even this radical notion that we discussed last night. Anshel asked Rabbi Jamie if God cannot sit or stand, how can God say? Talk. A question gleaned from his reading of the Psalms. The kabbalists, the Rabbi said, would invert the metaphor. Humans, he said, are the metaphor, not God. In other words we have used our own body as a way of understanding the ein sof, the infinite in and behind all.

Holidays-3-paganism-18189677-470-432So, I asked, can we say God is made in the image of man? Yes. We can say exactly that. This makes wonderful sense to me. As limited creatures, bound to a body, grounded, living a life that will end in death, we struggle to see, to peel back the layers of the world we know and find what makes it so. As we do, we utilize what is available to us, our bodies, our knowledge of life and death, our consciousness, our relationships with others, with animals, with the animate and inanimate.

As a pagan, I try to do this, try to work backwards from the world I see to the world I cannot. This is what I call revelation. The Great Wheel is the sephirot writ in the language of plants. It is, of course, a metaphor, too, one offering the book of nature as a Way. This correlation between paganism and kabbalah is rich for me right now. More as it develops.

 

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