Might Be

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Tuesday gratefuls: the dog, a tail wagging, face licking bundle of love. the grocery store, especially Tony’s Market. Kate’s successful cataract surgery. Williamsburg oil paints. Princeton brushes. Flovent for the COPD. Landice treadmills. Colorado Natural Gas for bringing natural gas to Shadow Mountain.

Might be the lupron, but when Joseph left yesterday a deep wave of sadness swept over me. Seoah came in and my head was down a bit. Are you o.k.? Just sad that Joseph left. She looked at me. I know how you feel.

Might be the lupron. Might not.

The lupron and the holidays. Might be why I feel so disoriented, so low energy. Trying to read, but find it hard to focus. Trying to paint, but ideas seem stuck somewhere, gluon neuron?

Glad Thanksgiving is over. It was good, but it knocked us out. Could be the lupron. Might not. Hard to know.

The metaphysical or the psychological effects of chemotherapy are tough to define, hard to limn. At least for me. Is the fatigue from preparing and managing a big meal? Staying up with the guests? Am I seeing the world right now as others see it? Not asking the perspectival question, obvious no, but the social consensus question. Is this world the one you know, too?

These are often subtle cracks in my perceptual world, making me question my own assessment of so many things. Can’t say I like this much.

Mark O. and Paul S. both have set learning guitar as a winter activity. Just after Thanksgiving I had decided I would concentrate on painting and justice, justice in this case as a mussar, or character, trait. For a month or more on the painting. Until December 17th when I present my thinking on justice to the mussar vaad practice group.

And, I need to add, reading. I want to up my reading schedule, read more. But I have this strange physical reaction to sitting still, focusing on a book. I want to get up, move around, do something with my hands. Shut off my brain. Sometimes I find a text that wrestles that reaction into submission, sometimes not.

Could be stress from the year plus storm of medical matters. Could be. Could be the lupron. Could be the holiday blues. Could be all of these, probably is, some dark mixture swirling around my consciousness.

Gonna let it be. Be whatever it is. Meanwhile I’ll read as much, paint as much, learn as much as I can.

The End of History

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Orion’s dog is chasing him toward the west. His bow points to the northwest. He stands suspended above the western peak of Black Mountain with Canis Major following him as he has done for millions, even billions of years. Castor and Pollux are there, too, anchoring Gemini.

In spite of all the exoplanets discovered we’re still alone. No one has contacted us and we’ve only sent golden records into the far space. Far space, indeed. Both Voyager 1 & 2 have reached interstellar space, beyond the heliopause, the end of Sol’s puissance. I have to reach back to my 9 year old heart to imagine how far away that is, but I can do that. Far, far away.

Strange to consider 10 billion souls alone together, but it’s the truth as we know it. We’re on this planet, of this planet, and we’ll die with this planet unless we kill ourselves first. Which seems possible.

Nietzsche’s abyss has its power through our isolation. I can swear there ain’t no heaven and I pray there ain’t no hell. At some point there’ll be no one left to carry on. (Blood Sweat and Tears, “And When I Die”)

Turn Starwheel Turn

Samain and a full Fallow Moon

Orion was there, but dim. 4:30 am. Full Fallow Moon above Black Mountain outshone his distant stars. Going outside in the early morning, seeing Orion rise, his big dog, too, has somewhat rekindled my interest in astronomy. Enough that I repurchased something I gave away when we moved, a starwheel. Wonderful name. Relearning parts of the night sky.

The big dipper, easy to locate in Andover, often hides behind the lodgepoles to the northeast, but is now rising early enough that I can see it. With that friend I can find Polaris and Arcturus. Follow the arc to Arcturus. Follow the pointer stars to Polaris.

Coming out at 4:30 or so on a daily basis makes me understand how the heavens could have been used not only as a calendar, but also as a clock. Orion ticks over further and further to the west. Others come to his former spot. A person who focused on the stars at night could tell time with this movement.

Living in the mountains surrounded by the Arapaho National Forest gives each day and night a close connection with the changing natural world. On the ground. In the sky.

One outcome of Kate’s good news and my ok news about our lung diseases (geez) is that we’re here to stay. Yes, we’re challenged by the thin air, but we can cope. Better up here for both of us than down in the polluted air of the Denver metro.

Jewish and Christian Modes of Biblical Interpretation

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Went to the bagel table yesterday morning. Torah study with Rabbi Jamie. Always fun and deep. Added bonus. I got to see how he does it. It’s been awhile and I wanted to learn from his approach before Alan and I do our bagel table on November 23rd.

I told Jamie afterward, this is so different from how I was taught. And, it is. My training came from the higher criticism movement which began in 19th century Germany. It came into being over against lower criticism which used the Bible as its source of scholarship for interpretation.

If you’re familiar with the idea of proof texting, that is, using a verse or two out of context to buttress a theological argument, then you know how lower criticism proceeds. It was, in many ways, similar to the scholarship style of the medieval scholastics. The scholastics used other written texts to “prove” their arguments, rather than looking for evidence outside others thoughts.

When Francis Bacon introduced the ideas that lead to the scientific method, he changed the world of scholarship forever. Historians had to look at documents and artifacts from the time periods they were studying rather than taking Herodotus, or Tacitus, or the Bible literally at their words. Scientists looked to nature and experimentation rather than Ptolemy or alchemy. Of course the old texts were useful still, just not in the way they had been.

Higher criticism followed in that vein. No longer was the Bible seen as the inspired word of God to be revered and understood as written. That attitude is not too different from the so-called “originalist” camp in interpretation of the Constitution.

The same methods, critical methods, used by literary scholars and scientists were brought to bear on scripture. The howls of blasphemy and apostasy started then and in some conservative theological circles have never softened.

Here are the questions of higher criticism. What did the text likely mean to the author? Here’s a heretical idea. Multiple authors for not only books of the bible but even multiple authors within books. Example: the documentary hypothesis for Genesis. JEDP. The Yahwist. The Elohist. (two names for God) The Deutronomic historian. The Priestly writers. The two stories of the creation of humans, which differ significantly, are the products of two different authors.

Redaction criticism took seriously this literary criticism, but noted that somebody had to put all of those fragments together in their current form. The redactors or editors. What does it mean that the redactors of Genesis chose to put both stories in with no commentary about why?

Tradition criticism looks for evidence of rituals, cultural understandings that show how texts evolved from oral tradition into written text. Other schools of criticism look at the manuscripts of biblical books, which one is the most ancient, the closest to the source texts, and the reception that various texts have received, both within the Bible and outside it.

All of this work comes under the heading of exegesis: “a systematic process by which a person arrives at a reasonable and coherent sense of the meaning and message of a biblical passage.” Theopedia (I like this definition, but not the site.) In my training the exegetical work preceded and informed the hermeneutical task, taking that meaning and message into the contemporary context, most commonly in a sermon.

I didn’t understand until yesterday the reason Rabbi Jamie’s Torah study is so different from my training. The Christian exegete looks for the meaning, the message of a biblical passage, then propounds it. The way Rabbi Jamie does Torah study is at one and the same time more conservative and more radical than higher criticism.

It is more conservative in that it relies on the Talmud, the Midrash, the history of rabbinic interpretation of both the texts themselves and what lies within the gaps. What was Abraham like before he appears in Genesis, already seventy-five years old? Why did Sarah die after Abraham took Isaac off for sacrifice? In that sense it’s reliance on the text as written is more like lower criticism. There’s a lot of proof-texting in the Talmud.

It’s more radical in that insists on multiple interpretations of the same text, allowing, to misuse Mao, a hundred meanings to bloom. This is the crux of the difference between my training and Rabbi Jamie’s method. As the definition of exegesis implies, biblical interpreters used higher critical methods to discover the text’s meaning and therefore its message for today. The meaning. Of course there were different conclusions using the same data, just as in the Midrash, but there lurked in the background always that there was one true meaning if only it could be found.

In the Jewish tradition Rabbi Jamie follows there is no one meaning. In fact several meanings can be uncovered through the imaginative application of many unusual tools. Like gematria. The numerology of Hebrew letters. Like imagining God asking Moses to inform Aaron of his imminent death. When you add in kabbalistic interpretations, the Torah becomes a polyvalent text. Not one you can do anything you want with, but not one you can say anything definitive about either.

Right now I’m appreciating the Jewish tradition of biblical interpretation. It’s more open-ended, more down to earth often, more immediately applicable to daily life. I also appreciate higher criticism, an approach that has now gone well beyond biblical texts into texts of any kind. Can be used, for example, in challenging the “originalists” on the Supreme Court.

On November 23rd, when Alan and I do Chayei Sarah: Genesis 23:1-Genesis 25:18, I’m going to try to stay in the Jewish traditional lane. Will not be easy for me because I don’t have the encyclopedic knowledge of Hebrew and the Midrash that Jamie does. Zornberg’s commentary on the parsha in her book on Genesis, The Beginning of Desire, is giving me a lot of help. There are other resources. We’ll see how much time I have to use them.

Time To Go

Samain and the Fallow Moon

The time clock, the early morning sky, has moved Orion further west. He will move below the horizon only to show up later in the Winter night. With the time shift his movement has become more obvious. I’m up at 4:30 still, but Orion knows not of saving time, only moving as the earth turns, all the while, too, rattling around our star, Big Sol, at speed. This timepiece is all we need; if only we could look up, see what we’re looking at.

I’m comfortable with clocks that tell of a broader version of time, a wider one. This is Samain, so we know the world moves toward darkness, cold. The Solstice of Winter. I could live with no clock, riding along with the seasonal changes. That would be fine. I do not need time. We are always in the moment, in a season, in a particular place. Enough.

Though of course others would counter this. How would I know when to zoom with my buddies? How would I make breakfast with Alan at the Lakeshore Cafe? I say I would know the same way the dogs know when to eat, when to get up, when to get their evening meds. I would say the same the way the cows on Bill Schmidt’s farm knew when to be milked. Why confuse all this knowing with long hands and short hands, digital numbers?

Life begins. We do not need to know the time, only the moment of slipping out of the watery world and into the airy one. Life ends. We will not know the time. The artificial measurements all cease to have meaning then. In between the schools, designed with early factories in mind, have bells and clocks and start times and end times. We go there to learn the constrictions, the tyranny of clocks. And, we learn well. Too well if you ask me. But, you do not.

I prefer the liminal spaces, another way of knowing the moment. When dawn breaks through the clouds turn pink over Black Mountain. I thought, oh, blue sky. Sky is male. Blue for boys. The clouds are pink. Does that connect to girls somehow? Couldn’t see it.

Or, as the sky bruises toward evening, twilight falls. Time to slow down, ease into the rest. No one needs a smart watch to know dawn or twilight.

What about the calendar? Easier, probably, to make notches on a tree branch. Day 1. Day 2. Day 43. Day 350. As Emerson said, the days are gods, so the calendar is their temple.

I could celebrate my birthday on the first morning that Orion is fully in the sky. Or on the new moon after the first big freeze. You could choose a marker for yourself. I’d agree with you.

Tradition is just peer pressure from the dead. (a facebook meme) All this fascination with dates and times, years and months, just peer pressure from the dead. We could work out our lives under other methods. Think of the billions who’ve died before us who did just that. It’s possible.

My stomach, for example, has sent a breakfast signal. That growly sound. Think I’ll replace seven o’clock with that growl.

Zornberg and Denes

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Brother Mark made a good observation. When remembering “my dead” yesterday, I did not include any dogs. He recalls, for example, “Vega’s woof.” I wrote him back and said, yes: Celt, Sorsha, Scott, Morgana, Tully, Tira, Orion, Tor. The Wolfhounds. Buck, Iris, Emma, Bridgit, Kona, Hilo. The Whippets. Vega. The coyote hound/IW mix.

My favorite version of the afterlife is that moment when all the dogs you’ve ever loved come up to greet you. If that could be so, I’d find eternity bearable.

Continuing to meditate, up to eleven minutes now toward a goal of twenty. And, read. First things.

This morning I read from The Human Argument, a collection of the writings of Agnes Denes. If you say, who? I understand. I’d never heard of her either until an article about her art in the Washington Post this week. This woman’s work is a stunner, combining science, mathematics, ecology, and art. I’m still not able to post pictures here (working on it), but you can see some of her work at the two links here. An important artist, IMO, but one I’d missed completely. Even the Walker has only one work by her and it’s a book. The MIA? Nothing.

Followed that with some more reading from Zornberg. Damn, this woman is so smart. And clever. The Beginning of Desire is a commentary on Genesis and its organized by parsha, the long readings required each week to get through the whole Torah in a year. The first parsha is named Bereshit since parshas take their name from the first word or phrase in the text. Bereshit is also the Hebrew name for the first book of the Bible, what I have known up till now as Genesis. Easily the best commentary I’ve ever read.

Here’s a quote from the introduction in which she talks about her method: “The aim of interpretation is, I suggest, not merely to domesticate, to familiarize an ancient book: it is also, and perhaps more importantly, to “make strangeness in certain respects stranger.”” She allows no definitive interpretation, rather she seeks a polyvalent conversation between reader and text, a dynamic reading that learns from the text and the life of the reader in dialectical tension.

Wondering now if staying immersed in Zornberg, in the world of ancient literature, the Greeks and Romans, too, might be the way forward for me. I certainly love it. Get excited.

The Narrow Room

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Two important things. 1. I get now, in a gut way, that the Tao that can be named is not the Tao. 2. In the fallow time the harvest moves toward death and decay.

Been considering the text of Chayei Sarah again. Reading some interesting Jewish commentaries and sermons preached by various rabbis on the parsha. Immersion in biblical literature turns all my inner lights on. Woke, I guess.

Also had an interesting e-mail conversation with Rich Levine about Emerson’s notion of a religion of direct revelation to us, not the dry bones of theirs. He said he found revelation in the experience of joy. I had said much the same about awe. When I wrote him back, I introduced a thought. Could it be that access to the sacred, the divine, the world next to this one can come only through feelings? If so, could it be that words written about it might be barriers rather than illuminators?

In that exchange it hit me, the Tao that can be written is not the Tao. Oh, yeah. The name of God that can be written is not God. The stories about God and those who follow Her are neither sacred, nor divine in themselves. They may evoke an experience of the sacred, but they are not it.

The fallow time moves toward death and decay. These diseases that Kate and I have, the ones you will have, augur the fallow time for our bodies. They propose death, not as imminent necessarily, but as inescapable. And I hear them

The COPD is not an enemy, but a marker along the trail of mortality. So is prostate cancer. Interstitial lung disease. Sjogren’s syndrome. These sign posts show the way, the path toward a universal destination of the body.

Learning to live with these signals is a life long process. If we learn how to admit them into our awareness as signals rather than foes, then we can nod, say yes, I see.

No, this does not mean that we say, oh, I see, well then measure up my narrow room. (see Bryant’s poem below) This does not mean that we cease treatments that can prolong our life. Though it could mean that if you want it to. It simply means that we live with a clarity about the end.

Samain 2019

The Wheel has turned full round again. Back now at Summer’s End, Samain. In very ancient times the Celts only had two seasons: Samain and Beltane. The fallow season and the growing season. Beltane on May 1st marked the start of the agricultural year and Samain its end. Later they added Imbolc and Lughnasa when celebration of equinoxes and solstices became more common. Imbolc, February 1st lies between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox while Lughnasa, August 1, is between the Summer Solstice and the Fall Equinox.

The Celts did not begin their year at Beltane, but at Samain, the start of the fallow season. Today. Happy New Year to all of you. Especially to those of you whose heart, like mine, beats to the rhythm of Mother Earth’s changes. And, I would add, to Father Sun’s constancy during her changes.

Rosh Hashanah begins the human new year for Jews as the growing season comes to an end. Michaelmas, September 29th, the feast day of the Archangel Michael, is Rudolf Steiner’s springtime of the soul. It’s not as strange as it may at first sound to begin the New Year in the fall after gathering in the crops.

This was the season in pre-modern times when the flurry of growing, gathering, fishing, hunting that marked the warmer months slowed down or ended. Families would have more time together in their homes. Visiting each other was easier. Time would stretch out as the night’s lengthened, making outdoor work difficult, if not impossible.

This is the season of the bard, the storyteller, the folk musician and it begins with the thinning of the veil between this world and the other world. Harvest and slaughter have the paradoxical affect of sustaining life by taking life, necessary, but often sad. Our need for the lives of plants and other animals reveals the fragile interdependence of our compact with life.

The veil thins. Those of the faery realm and the realm of the dead are close as the growing season ends. The Mexican and Latin American day of the dead and the Christian all souls day point to the same intuition, that somehow life and its afterwards are closest to each other now.

I’m recalling Gertrude and Curtis Ellis. Grandpa Charlie Keaton and Grandma Mabel. Uncle Riley, Aunt Barbara, Aunt Marjorie, Aunt Roberta. Lisa. Ikey. Aunt Ruth. Uncle Rheford and his wife. Uncle Charles. Grandma Jennie. Grandpa Elmo. And so many, many others extending back in time to England, Wales, Ireland. Before that as wanderers up out of Africa, those without whose lives I would not have had my own. Nor you yours.

There are, too, friends and their loved ones. The members of my high school class who have died. Regina, wife of Bill.

The Romantics say it best for me. Here’s the first few lines of Thantopsis by William Cullen Bryant:

     To him who in the love of Nature holds   
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks   
A various language; for his gayer hours   
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile   
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides   
Into his darker musings, with a mild   
And healing sympathy, that steals away   
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts   
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight   
Over thy spirit, and sad images   
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,   
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,   
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—   
Go forth, under the open sky, and list   
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—
Comes a still voice—
                                       Yet a few days, and thee   
The all-beholding sun shall see no more   
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,   
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,   
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist   
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim   
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again…

Change it up, dude

Fall (last day of) and the Fallow Season Moon

-8. That’s right. -8 degrees here on Shadow Mountain, the day before Halloween. In October. We’ve had a taste of Minnesota winter the week before Halloween.

Been changing my morning routine a bit. Read an article that said the first three hours of your day are the most important. Mine starts between 4 am and 4:30 am. I wake up, the dogs get restless, Kep rolls over for a tug and tussle. Gertie comes up to check that I’M REALLY GETTING UP. Gives me a quick kiss to be sure. Rigel raises her head, looks at me. She requires a personal request to get out of bed.

That first half hour is dog feeding, getting the newspaper, and, on Wednesdays, today, taking out the trash. The trash has to be wheeled out through whatever has fallen on the driveway. Some snow today, not too bad.

One of the containers, the green one for recycling, testifies to America’s changed economy. It’s filled with cardboard from Amazon orders, Chewy dogfood boxes, boxes from Kate’s tube feeding supplies. Each home is now a shipping and receiving depot with the resulting obligation to handle no longer needed shipping materials.

After this work finishes, I go upstairs in our garage, to my loft, a 900 square foot space filled with books, art making supplies, exercise equipment and my computer desk. Over the last 14 years the first thing I’ve done in the morning is read e-mails, then write Ancientrails. That’s what I’d call a habit.

But, when learning is needed, the teacher appears. A writer whose blog I sometimes read suggested the first three hours make your day notion. He was making the common millennial complaint about spending too much on social media: facebook, instagram, snapchat, tiktok, whatever the latest is. That’s not me, but I took his point.

Ready for a change I switched up. First, back to meditating. Having done that on a regular basis in a long while. Goal is for 20 minutes. Up to 10 this morning. Then, I read. I’ve been wondering about why I’m not reading more. Oh, I read science fiction, the occasional novel, Tears of the Truffle Pig right now, but serious reading has become a difficult task. Fitting it in. Being able to sustain attention. Turns out the early am is wonderful for that kind of attention.

Reading this morning in the Beginning of Desire, by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg. Subtitle: reflections on Genesis. She’s amazing. A new thing under the sun of biblical commentary. Her method, which I’ll write about here at some point, is so subtle, so profound, so intimate, and very learned. I got hooked on her by plucking a book of hers somewhat by random off the library shelf at CBE. I opened, read a couple of sentences, and knew this was genius. Not a term I use lightly.

That was a year ago during the High Holidays, Yom Kippur, and Rabbi Jamie had just finished the whole High Holidays. A lot of work. He sank into the chair next to me. Nobody else there. All had left.

I enthused about Zornberg. He brightened. Yes, he’d met here. Yes, she was the best Torah commentator, maybe ever. He and his brother Russ, a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, and professor at Regis University in Denver, who lives in Evergreen, had talked about a joint class using one of her works, a series of essays on biblical interpretation. Hasn’t happened yet, but when things normalize here, I’m going to see if I could give the idea a boost.

Anyhow, I got into her this morning and combined with some other thinking I’ve been doing, got into a revery about myth, fairy tales, long books, the true anchors of my inner life. This is my work, my lifelong work and fascination, the attempts we humans make to discern the occult, the hidden, the other world, the that beyond the this. This is my heart’s labor. Politics was reasons labor, fueled by the heart, too, of course, the misery of oppression, but calculating, power oriented, perhaps a diversion?

I’m writing this now, an hour and a half later than I would have in the past 14 years. So, changes. More to come.

Climb the Mountain, Find the Sea

Fall and the New Moon

Later in the day, Monday.

Drove carefully down Shadow Mountain, down 285 to 470. 470 was clear to South Denver Cardiology. When they called Charles, two of us got up. Charles Collins was the one they wanted. I sat back down.

Ellen came out ten minutes later. Charles II, me.

Back in the room she asked me if I’d ever been on a treadmill before. Yes, I own one and have used it for years. Take off your shirts, please. It’s easier to hook you up to the EKG. She rubbed my chest with a lotion to help the EKG pads stay on, then carefully separated the eight leads and clicked them into place after placing the pads all over my chest.

We waited for an initial EKG to run. A baseline. I stood there in the slightly cool room draped with long plastic cords attached to my body, feeling mildly ridiculous and science fictiony at the same time.

The treadmill was nothing special. Not as nice as mine. It goes up automatically Ellen said. In speed and elevation. On the wall ahead of me was a sign showing numbers and exertion levels. Fine to extremely difficult, 10 numbers. We’re heading to 126 beats per minute. I can do that. I just did, Saturday morning.

That’s arrived at by the quick and dirty way of subtracting your age from 220, then multiplying by some percentage (it varies according to your age, gender, physical condition). Age from 220 gives maximum heart rate.

I stayed on for a bit over 8 minutes. Felt I should I go past 7 minutes which was the average. Ego. We ended with the treadmill at 3.6 mph at 15% elevation. That’s way harder than my usual workout which right now is at 3 mph, going up to 6% elevation. I could have gone longer, but Ellen said she had enough data, so she set the treadmill to cool down.

When I was off, she had me sit on a table, still attached to the EKG. Time back to normal heart rate is a sign of fitness. Not so good as it used to be for me. After a fourth blood pressure reading, she said I was done.

Part of the angst I felt yesterday morning was about the medicalization of my life. Another test, another chance to find something new wrong. I’d like to get back to annual physicals. Might not happen.

A while ago I read a Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickled and Dimed, et al) short essay on why she’s not doing anymore medical tests at all: Why I’m Giving Up on Preventative Care. Her point is that she’s sensed she’s old enough to die. Good article. Just read Dr. Stephen Mile’s Testament. It’s his equivalent of a medical directive. He’s very, very clear about what he doesn’t want, most of it bring me back from the brink sort of interventions.

Death might be making a come back. Why not own our mortality? The tree dies. The dog dies. The human dies. Yes. The cycle finishes for the individual while the species lives on. Our individual existence has never been the point anyway, procreation is about the species, not about the individual, though paradoxically individuals are required to sustain the species.

Here’s something I found that gives another perspective on this conversation:

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
     And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
     And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance. Kahlil Gibran, On Death.