We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Metaphor? Of course.

Fall                                                                               Harvest Moon

kabbalah8The tree of life, the tree of immortality guarded by the angel with the flaming sword; the tree itself still growing in paradise, concealed by language, by our senses, by the everydayness of our lives; the path back to the garden often forgotten, the exile from paradise a separation so profound that we no longer know the location of the trail head and even harder, we no longer have a desire to search for it.

Metaphor? Of course. But in these three words lie a trap for the unwary, a trap in which I allowed myself to get caught and held, a mindhold trap. My life seems like a sine wave of grasping, then losing the significance of metaphors.

When young, I felt the mystery behind the communion wafers and the grape juice at Alexandria First Methodist. At the tenebrae service, when we extinguished the little candles with their paper drip guards and the sanctuary went dark, I thrilled to the change from ordinary experience, sensed the power rolling over us as the memory of crucifixion and death came hurtling through the centuries to land in our small Indiana town, in the very spot where I sat.

The sunrise services held on Easter morning lit up my whole inside. The power of the tenebrae had been defeated and life did go on forever, death only a mistake, an illusion, misunderstood as a cruelty when in fact it was a gateway. I suppose on those days, repeated over many years, I had a glimpse of the path back to the garden.

My mother’s death, I think, shattered this instinctive faith. Those feelings occasioned by grape juice soaked squares of bread, darkness and the rising of the sun, were a true path and one I lost when the brutal reality of grief smeared the way.

But the memory of that way remained. So I moved up from the instinctive triad of netzach-hod-yesod, forced by fear and loss to skip the next triad chesed-gevurah-tiferet and go to the one easiest for me to access, hochmah-binah-daat. I know these hebrew words may mean nothing at all to you, I’m still at the base of a steep learning curve with them myself, but they do appear on the illustration above so you can see where they are on the tree of life.

In simple, but not simplistic terms, the triads are netzach-hod-yesod, the realm of instinctual behavior, chesed-gevurah-tiferet, the realm of emotions and hochmah-binah-daat, the realm of the intellect. Movement in the tree of life goes from the keter to malchut and back from malchut up to keter, so there is no real top or bottom, only different spots in an ongoing process of creation.

kabbalahBut here’s the trap. Metaphor, of course! I studied philosophy, religion, anthropology in college. Then, after a few years stuck in unenlightened instinctual behavior-the storied sex, drugs and rock and roll of the sixties and seventies-I moved to seminary. The trap tightened. I learned about the church, scripture old and new, ethics, church history. It was exhilarating, all this knowledge. I soaked it up. I remained though stuck in the intellectual triad, pushing back and forth between the polarity of intuitive wisdom, hochmah, and analytical thought, binah, often not going on to daat, or understanding. I learned, but did not integrate into my soul.

There was a time, after seminary, after ordination, as I groped my way around in the work of ministry, that I found the path again. It was in mystical traditions like the Jesus Prayer, or the use of lectio divina, contemplative prayer. I had spiritual directors who guided my prayer life and I meditated often, daily for years, went on private retreats for days at a time. In those years I found my way back to the netzach-hod-yesod triad, traveling again on the instinctual path formed so long ago.

The trap sprung another time, though, as I got better at my ministry, more able to apply organizational development paradigms to congregational life, more able to pull the levers of political power for the good of various purposes: affordable housing, unemployment policy, economic development for poor neighborhoods, fighting off corporate takeovers of those same poor neighborhoods, more able to navigate the internal politics of Presbytery life. I became stuck in malchut, the material world which we experience everyday. So stuck that eventually I could see nothing else and the path disappeared again.

interior_dante_divinecomedy_inf_01_002My heart knew I had gotten lost, in exile once again. In Dante’s words in Canto 1 of the Divine Comedy:

In the middle of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost.

It is a hard thing to speak of, how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death…

I cannot rightly say how I entered it. I was so full of sleep, at that point where I abandoned the true way.”

This time I knew I had to extricate myself from the subtle trap, get out of the thought world that had me lost in the dark wood, the direct way lost. It was a wild, harsh, seemingly impenetrable forest.

It was clear that for me the Christian faith had gotten muddled up with ambition, immersion in the world of power. And, most problematic of all, it had become part of the metaphor trap. The metaphor had gone stale, had become a barrier instead of a koan. Not the fault of the faith itself, but of my journey within it.

IMAG0650croppedAt the time of its crumbling another path had begun to open for me. Fiction writing emerged when, ironically, I began writing my Doctor of Ministry thesis. Instead of working on it I ended up with 30,000 plus words of what would become my first novel, Even The Gods Must Die. Irony in the title, too, I suppose.

In the train of that shift came a decision to look into my Celtic heritage as a source for my fiction. While researching Celtic religion for the fantasy novels I wanted to write, I discovered the Great Wheel.

It grounded me. So to speak. My spiritual life became tactile, bound up in soil amendments, bulbs, corms, seeds, spades and hoes, fruit trees, raspberries and bees. And, of course, dogs. Always dogs.

Meeting Kate enabled me to move gracefully out of the ministry and into a pagan worldview. I was back in the netzach-hod-yesod triad, but now firmly attached to malchut, the queendom of this world.

Writing fiction found me exploring the chesed-gevurah-tiferet triad, having to reach into my heart for believable characters, story lines. Over the course of those years, the years since leaving the Christian ministry and now, I began to gradually integrate the triads, at least the three: intellectual, emotional and instinctual. The combination of family life, the Andover years, writing, and working as a docent at the MIA began to slowly weave them into my soul.

2010 01 19_3454Even so, I sat behind the barrier, the flaming sword, the metaphor trap. Beth Evergreen and Rabbi Jamie Arnold have started me on a journey back to where I began, immersed in the dark. Seeking for the light, yes, but happy now in the  darkness, too. The Winter Solstice long ago became my favorite holiday of the year.

When I left Christianity and took up my earth-bound spirit, I shut off access to the fourth triad, the one subsumed under keter: faith-joy/pleasure-will, and its source of energy, the ein sof, the infinite One, perhaps god in small letters. Today, as I write this, I’m more pagan than I’ve ever been, more embracing of the body, the mountains, the stars, the elk and the mountain lion, than any words from any source.

2011 03 06_3396But. At Beth Evergreen I have begun to feel my way back into the fourth triad, the mystery I first encountered on the hard wooden pews in Alexandria, the one pulsing behind the metaphors of tenebrae, of crucifixion, of resurrection,  and now of Torah, of language, of a “religious” life. I knew it once, in the depth of my naive young boy’s soul. Now, I may find it again, rooted in the old man he’s become.

Gasthaus

Fall                                                                                     Harvest Moon

Bull and doe, Evergreen Lake, 2015

Bull and doe, Evergreen Lake, 2015

Coming out of Beth Evergreen last night the full harvest moon hung over the town, silver and wonderful. It limned the mountains, highlighted the blue in the spruce tips on the drive back up Shadow Mountain. Earlier in the evening we saw several mule deer on the way down the mountain, does and bucks, then five or six of the much larger elk wandering around, ironically, right below a flashing Elk Crossing sign.

The Arapaho National Forest wraps around Black Mountain Drive/Brook Forest Drive so as we make our way up and down the mountains into Evergreen we’re surrounded not by residential development, though there is some, but mostly by forest, lodgepole pines, aspen higher up, Colorado blue spruce and ponderosa pine lower down that come right up to the road, as does the slope of the various mountains we pass.

Black Mountain, 2017

Black Mountain, 2017

At night this drive activates my fantasy life. I imagine the mountain lions and bears, the mule deer and the elk, the skunks, pine martens, pikas, Abert and red squirrels, an occasional bull snake all living there, either in hiding or bedded down or up and stealthily pursuing their next meal. Though the portion of the Arapaho National Forest where we are is not wilderness, it does abut the Mt. Evans Wilderness Area and Staunton State Park. Once in awhile moose come through our area, too, though they’re mostly toward the west, in Staunton and toward Bailey. This is the WUI, pronounced wooee, the wildlife/urban interface.

You could say we don’t belong here, we humans, that this mountainous land belongs to the mountain lion and the bear, the magpies and the Great Horned Owls. And you would be right, of course. Yet the truth is we humans do not have a place uniquely ours. We’re an adaptable species, able to live on islands, on the coasts of great oceans, lakes and rivers, on deserts and vast fertile plains. We’ve spread from Africa, where we roamed the veldt, hunting and gathering over vast stretches of land, to colder climates in the north and to all the continents of the planet.

Black Mountain, September, 2017

Black Mountain, September, 2017

I say we do belong here, but only as guests, as itinerant cousins of the wild animals, the sturdy pines. But, then, we are guests, too, on the Great Plains stretching north and south in the center of North America. Guests, too, on Iceland, Greenland, Britain. Guests as well in the Himalayas, in the jungles of the Congo and on the Sahara. Guests in the high Andes and on the distant lands of Tierra del Fuego.

As guests we have to realize we share our living space with species not as adaptable as we are. As guests we owe it to our neighbors to make our presence as unintrusive as possible, as honoring as possible. One manifestation of this honor is driving with care, going more slowly than perhaps we might want because our neighbors could need to cross the road. Another part of it is to see that the land we own (ha. that we temporarily inhabit) is as friendly to the locals as it can be. That we don’t poison the land, that we don’t build more than we need.

I tend to think of it as living in a vast apartment building. Our noise level, our lights, our motors, our driveways all impact the folks living in the next place. So we need to be considerate. When we leave our apartment, when our time as guests of Shadow Mountain and the Arapaho Forest is over, the neighbors remain. They own the condos and they can’t move. Leaving the place better than we found it is the least we can do.

Who is God’s Rothko?

Fall                                                                     Harvest Moon

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

No. 118 1961 by Mark Rothko

No. 118 1961 by Mark Rothko

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

mao trach dong

mao trach dong

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Exhaled from the abyss

Lughnasa                                                                    Eclipse Moon

Say awe. My focus phrase for this month’s middot: yirah, or awe. (middot=character trait)

CamusAlbert Camus. One of my favorite theologians. It occurred to me that the abyss Camus mentions may be what gets crossed when we experience awe. Somehow we let the absurd in, or the mute world gives us a shout.

“For Camus … [our] astonishment [at life] results from our confrontation with a world that refuses to surrender meaning. It occurs when our need for meaning shatters against the indifference, immovable and absolute, of the world. As a result, absurdity is not an autonomous state; it does not exist in the world, but is instead exhaled from the abyss that divides us from a mute world. ‘This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world. For the moment it is all that links them together.’ …” 

Here’s another way of thinking about awe from Alan Morinis, a mussar guru:

“Awe is the feeling of being overwhelmed by a reality greater than yourself and greater than what you encounter in ordinary life. A curtain is drawn back and the little human is overtaken by a trembling awareness that life is astounding in its reality, vastness, complexity, order, surprise. Experiences of awe awaken a spiritual awareness.”

yggdrasil

yggdrasil

Immanuel Kant used the phrase ding an sich, the thing-in-itself, to name that from which our senses separate us. We experience the ding an sich, the mute world of Camus, only through our senses, through our sensory experience of certain qualities, qualia, that the thing-in-itself presents. We do not, in other words, experience that which has the qualities, but only its qualia and then only those within the very limited range of qualia accessible to our senses.

The ding an sich, the abyss, a reality greater than yourself all name a something beyond ordinary experience. There are many ways of articulating the gap between us and the ding an sich, the things in themselves.

Here’s one I like.  Bifrost is the rainbow bridge of Norse mythology. As in this illustration, bifrost connects Asgard, the realm of the Aesir (Odin, Thor, Freya), and midgard, or middle earth, the realm of humans. Awe could be a brief moment when we stand not on midgard but on the rainbow bridge, able to catch a glimpse of the realm beyond us.

Or, we might consider the Hindu concept of maya. Among other meanings maya is a “magic show, an illusion where things appear to be present but are not what they seem”” wikipedia

heimdallWhat all of these ideas suggest, I think, is that a gap exists between an individual and the really real. An important religious question is what is beyond that gap, or what constitutes the gap, or what is the significance of the hidden for our spiritual lives.

I don’t know how to answer that question. Camus’ notion of the absurd makes sense to me. If that’s not an oxymoron. What I do know, for sure, is that the only tool we have for answering it is our experience. Awe may help us. It may allow us a momentary peek into the abyss, or place us on bifrost, or pierce the veil of maya.

What has awed you this day? This week? This year? In this life?

End Times?

Lughnasa                                                                 Eclipse Moon

Earth's CirculationEnd times. Remember Harvey? The really big hurricane that hit Houston. Last week. Nope, neither do I. I’ve only got eyes for Irma now. Tracking her path north, a bitch goddess of mother nature’s fearsome pantheon: hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, torrential rains, drought, wildfire, volcanic eruption, tsunami, avalanche is an exercise in awe. So big. She’s so big. So powerful. So demanding and unyielding.

Wider by double than the state of Florida, Irma will make landfall in the Keys as a Category 5, the highest number in the Saffir-Simpson scale. Its winds are higher even than the criteria for Category 5, but as an article explaining why there would never be a Category 6 hurricane said, “Once you reach catastrophic, there’s no more damage more intensive winds and rains can do.”

The Ellis side of my family is basically in Texas and Oklahoma. We have relatives in the Houston area. Joseph and SeoAh are in Macon, Georgia. The cone of Irma’s path north has Macon in the center. Of course, she will have diminished in strength considerably by the time she reaches mid-Georgia, but high winds and torrential rains are definitely coming to Robbins AFB and Macon.

Totality

Totality

On August 21st we went to Idaho to observe eclipse totality. I wrote then that these events may be a key to humility, that our assumptions about the way things are may be fundamentally wrong. The sun does not go dark on a cloudless day. The sun. Oh, wait. It just did. No wonder an eclipse could strike real fear in our ancestors. That fear is similar to the one experienced, but in slow motion, at the Winter Solstice.

The night has overtaken the day. The earth is cold. Will it ever warm again? Will we ever have a spring? This question of the sun’s return, whether light and hope can emerge from the dark, is a sort of abstraction, a conclusion or a fear based on the sun’s apparent disappearance. It makes us philosophical, scientific.

Storms like Harvey and Irma are blunter instruments. They come screaming at us from the world ocean, hurricanes in the Atlantic, typhoons in the Pacific. There is no question about their intent, about their results. Devastation and havoc follow in their wake. Some will wonder why. It is our nature to ask these questions, but our answers too often obscure rather than reveal. Take, for example, Rush Limbaugh who thinks reporting on Irma and Harvey is a plot to convince us about climate change. Or, a pastor who believes the hurricanes are a direct response to homosexuality.

Wild Hunt, Caceria Salvaje

Wild Hunt, Caceria Salvaje

No. These are answers that reveal our fears, take our own Rorschachian temperature, but the why is not about us. The why is the delicate, yet sometimes fragile balance of temperature and humidity added to a whirling planet’s churned up atmosphere. Hurricanes like Irma are goddesses in the oldest sense of the word, creatures of nature beyond our ken and propitiation. We cannot pray to them and expect changed results for their ways are not our ways.

We are, in their presence, revealed as weak and defenseless animals whose only recourse is to flee. Look at the news footage of evacuation traffic out of Florida. Look at the devastation of our burrows and other shelters built on Caribbean islands. Look at Houston in the aftermath of Harvey.

The divinities of this earth are not human, not anthropomorphic and not separated from us by a sacred veil or a hidden world. They are very much of the earth. And they are neither evil nor good. To paraphrase Matthew 5:45, …she (mother earth) makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

So, no. These are not the end times. These violent storms are part of our planet’s readjusting of water and heat, seeking a balance between the frigid polar atmosphere and the heated tropics. Oh, yes, we have meddled with that balance, throwing more heat into the equation. We have increased the fury and power of these earthly beings and in that sense we have brought a kind of judgment on ourselves, delivered by the impersonal forces we do not and can not control.

As for me, I’m in awe. We move out of the way of Irma as the mule deer and elk of the mountains flee human presence. On the days of hurricanes the mountains are a good place to be. When the wildfires come? Not so much.

Higher Up

Lughnasa                                                                Eclipse Moon

shaggy sheep2Took off yesterday morning about 7:30 am and drove west (or south) on Hwy 285 headed toward Park County, Bailey and Fairplay. I stopped at Grant, a place made visible only by its single, as near as I can tell, business, the Shaggy Sheep. There’s one of those yellow diamond signs just after it with a black silhouette of a bighorn sheep. This is one of several instances of displaced chefs seeking less frenetic lifestyles in the mountains. I mentioned the Badger Creek Cafe in Tetonia, Idaho in my eclipse post. There are others.

The breakfast I had was a deconstructed carnitas hash with green chili and two eggs on top. The deconstructed hash had carnitas laid over cut up chunks of potato, not mixed together as in corned beef hash. It was delicious. While I ate, I read a brand new book by an author from Boulder, Colorado, Megafire. Michael Kodas analyzes the sudden uptick of catastrophic wildfires since the 1970’s and why they’ll keep coming. It pleased me to see that the Shaggy Sheep had opened a second room, meaning they may stay in business, a far from certain conclusion for anything retail up here.

South Park (to the right) from Pennsylvania Mtn.

South Park (to the right) from Pennsylvania Mtn.

After breakfast, I drove on toward the Kenosha Pass, a cut through a huge granitic batholith that forms the western boundary of the Front Range. After the 9,997 foot pass, Hwy. 285 descends sharply, a 7% grade, into South Park. Yes, that South Park. At the top of the pass South Park spreads out below, a wide treeless plain that stretches to another range of mountains beyond. They mark the continental divide. That was where I was headed.

A Fairplay favorite, the Java Moose

A Fairplay favorite, the Java Moose

Fairplay, the county seat of Park County, is a not unusual, for Colorado, meld of old mining town, tourist destination and current mining. A dispute reported in last week’s Flume concerns whether or not to rezone residential plots for mining so a gold mine, yes, a gold mine, can expand its operations.

Those of us hiking up Mt. Pennsylvania met at a Sinclair truck stop on the east side of Fairplay. I went in the car with our two guides and Rich Levine, a member of Beth Evergreen and the lawyer who drew up our new estate documents. On the drive we went past the disputed zoning plat. The gold mine, it’s no longer grizzled old men in long underwear with pans and picks, looked more like an aggregate pit.

Indian Paint Brush

Indian Paint Brush

At the trailhead we began our hike at 11,700 feet through willow, lodgepole pine and a surprising abundance of wildflowers. The trail meandered a bit while traversing another 500 feet up to 12,200. We passed through the krummholz layer, crooked trees, that mark the tree line. Trees right at the tree line are stunted and crooked due to the inhospitable climate. It’s the tree line, after all.

After the krummholz comes tundra, flat and bare except for plants that hug the ground, mat plants, and a few hardy flowers. The air is thin here on Shadow Mountain at 8,800 feet, but 12,200 is thinner yet. It was a struggle to get to the highest point of the hike, requiring breath breaks for most of us; not, however, Tara’s three teenagers who seemed to run with exasperating ease (to this old guy) up the trail. As did Marley, their dog.

A tree island at the krummholz level

A tree island at the krummholz level

Those of us from Beth Evergreen were there because of the research being done on Pennsylvania Mountain. Forty years worth of investigation has been conducted there into alpine bees and some of the plants that they pollinate. Native dandelions, for instance, may be under threat from the expansion of the familiar, but invasive dandelion probably growing in your yard right now. Unfortunately, the scientists had vacated the site, presumably due to the academic year just getting underway, so we were left mostly with the stunning scenery as a benefit.

There was one other gain. The Beth Evergreen pre-school, now a wholly owned subsidiary of the congregation, has as a theme for the year, Bee Alive. It came up in the conversation that Kate and I have beekeeping experience. Rich has started two hives, which he has very cleverly suspended on steel cable high above the ground to foil bears. Otherwise an electric fence, and a strong one, is necessary. Rich invited me over to his house next week for a pre-school staff meeting. Kate and I may end up sharing some of our equipment and knowledge. Should be fun.

A full day. And a good one.

Working

Lughnasa                                                                         Kate’s Moon

hell2Moving forward, slowly, with Jennie’s Dead. Exploring the religion of the ancient Egyptians, trying to avoid hackneyed themes, not easy with all the mummy movies, Scorpion King, Raiders of the Lost Ark sort of cinema. Jennie’s Dead is not about Egypt, ancient or otherwise, but it plays an important role in the plot. Getting started is difficult, trying to sort out where the story wants to go, whether the main conflict is clear, to me and to the eventual reader.

Also moving forward, also slowly, with Reimagining. The pile of printed out posts has shrunk considerably, now filed. As I’ve gone through them, I read them a bit, for filing purposes. One notion that jumped out at me was my turn away from text-based religions, from the sort of quasi-scholastic reasoning that occurs.

image of godAs Emerson said, “Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?”

I guess Emerson and I had the same quandary. We love the ancient texts, their poetry and philosophy, yet do not want to be bound by them. We want our poetry and revelation straight from the source, nature and the human experience of our own time. Yet, it seems to me, we’re both informed in our search for the poetry of existence by the way those seekers of the past found revelation in their time. Surely the logic of wanting our own revelation grounds itself in the stories of Genesis, the work of Moses, the resurrection story of Jesus, even the night flight of Muhammad and the whirling cosmic dance of Shiva.

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryThis means I’m in a curious position relevant to my own education in the Christian tradition and my new education, underway now, in the older faith tradition of Judaism. Both are normative, in their way, but not as holy writ. Rather, they are normative in a more fundamental sense, they reveal the way we humans can discover the sacred as it wends and winds its way not only through the universe, but through history.

We may not, in other words, be bound by their philosophy and insight, the history of their revelation, yet how the ancients made themselves open to the whispers and shouts of the sacred, how they received its insights and what use they made of it in their lives, those shape us because we are the same vessel, only thrown into a different time.

Arthur_Szyk_(1894-1951)._The_Holiday_Series,_Rosh_Hashanah_(1948),_New_Canaan,_CTThis is a similar idea to that of the reconstructionists, but not the same. Reconstructionists want to work with a constantly evolving Jewish civilization, grounding themselves in Torah, mussar, kabbalah, shabbat, the old holidays, but emphasizing the work of building a Jewish culture in the current day, reconstructing it as Jews change and the world around them changes, too. I’m learning so much from this radical idea.

2695406589_2517d8b0f2What I want to do though, and it’s a similar challenge, is to reimagine, for our time and as a dynamic, the way we reach for the sacred, the way we write about our experience, the way we celebrate the insights and the poetry it inspires. In this Reconstructionist Judaism is a better home for me than Unitarian Universalism. UU’s may have the same goal, but their net is cast into the vague sea of the past, trying to catch a bit from here and a bit from there. It is untethered, floating with no anchor. Beth Evergreen affirms the past, the texts of their ancestors, their thousands of years of interpretation, the holidays and the personal, daily life of a person shaped by this tradition, but also recognizes the need to live those insights in an evolving world.

 

Simcha

Lughnasa                                                                     Kate’s Moon

beautifulIt’s been a rainy, cold week here on Shadow Mountain. The dial on the various fire risk signs is either on low or moderate. Gotta love the monsoons. Yesterday we came home from Beth Evergreen and it was 71 in Evergreen, 60 at the house. Not very far mileage wise from Evergreen, but the altitude really makes a difference.

I’ve returned to a state of general well-being, forget why I veered off that course for a few weeks. Joy is around every corner these days from Kate’s progress in living with Sjogren’s Syndrome to Jon’s new house to our upcoming trip to Idaho for the eclipse. Rigel’s return to her young dog-on-the-hunt persona livens our day.

spiritual-enlightenment-spiritualityRuth and I are going to the Fiske Planetarium tomorrow for a show on the moon. Kate will go along, as will Gabe. That way Jon can have time to work on the bench in the dining room. I’ll have a chance to stop at the Growing Kitchen‘s outlet store while Kate takes the kids elsewhere. The Growing Kitchen is a company that makes its edibles from the bud of the marijuana plant rather than from trimming created when the bud is processed for joints. I want to see if there’s a quality difference. Seems like there would be.

We’re also attending shabbat services tonight. It’s a “mostly musical” shabbat with all original music written by Rabbi Jamie. The poster for it reads: Is your Rabbi a rock star? Ours is! He’s a very talented guy, both musically and intellectually. Beth Evergreen has become a solid part of our lives, a community that always seems to make me feel better for having shown up. It actually is what the Christian church talks about as a beloved community. Interesting I had to go Judaism to find one.

 

All That Falls Shall Be Reborn

Lughnasa                                                                 Kate’s Moon

lughnasaOh. Right. Slept in yesterday until 7:30 am. About 2.5 hours past normal rising. The guy from Conifer Gutter came by to give us an estimate on needle guards for our gutters. Then, well, I worked out and forgot to post.

But, here we are on Tuesday, 48 degrees outside after a drippy, Midwest-nostalgia day of rain yesterday. Kate sewed; I dithered. Read a bit more on Dark Ecology and responding to the ecocide. That sort of uplifting thing.

Still don’t have the rhythm of the new workout routine and actual work down. This is because I shifted my workout to mornings-cooler and less likely to get distracted. That’s also my best working time, for writing and research not to mention stuff around the house. I’ll get it eventually, but the herky-jerky rhythm I’ve got now feels, well, herky-jerky.

Went to an energizing lecture titled Fifty Shades of Talmud. Yes, it was about sex in this compilation of commentaries and arguments that created Rabbinic Judaism. The woman who wrote the book, Maggie Anton, spoke about talmud study with an infectious enthusiasm. Made me glad. I love to see people living from their passion, deep into something that fascinates them.

lughnasa1

Kate, for example, loves to sew and quilt. She finished a great wall hanging for me yesterday, four moose prints on a field of green. I’ve long considered the moose my spirit animal. Thanks, sweetheart.

Rigel continues to spend her every outdoor moment yearning after jaws against the flesh of tiny critters. She sniffs under the deck and on the deck, presumably following the movements of whatever is under there. She digs and sniffs and barks under the shed, too. She’s rejuvenated and following her doggy passion. In fact, she’s my new third phase role model. I want to be like Rigel. No, I’m not going to start sniffing the deck, barking under the shed, but I want to live my life like she’s living hers, all in.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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