Get Your Hands Dirty

Just to show you I’m not only about death and cancer. Here’s a response I wrote to Bill Schmidt after reading this article, “Modernity, Faith, and Martin Buber,” from the New Yorker. He passed it along from his friend Nancy.

Bill, it took me a while, but I did get around to the Buber article yesterday. Interesting. I’d not read a synopsis like this before.

He was a contemporary of Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism and the only rabbi excommunicated by the Orthodox rabbinate in the U.S. My kinda guy.

Martin Buber


I would put Buber, Dewey, Kaplan, and Emerson together. They all questioned received wisdom, hankered to get below the surface of thought to find the substrata. Dewey (and William James) as a pragmatist might be the outlier here, but the pragmatists were a unique American contribution to Western philosophy and as such took issue with the philosophical tradition they had been given from European thinkers. Buber, of course, is the only one of the three that is not an American, but he took Jewish thought in a direction I think is very congenial with Kaplan.

In a quick search I couldn’t find any evidence that Kaplan used Buber’s work, but their mutual insistence on a human centered approach to religion, perhaps even in Buber a human/pagan approach: “When something does emerge from among things, something living, and becomes a being for me… It is for me nothing but You!” and on Judaism’s culture, as opposed to dogma, makes them simpatico. “Buber exhorted his listeners…not to abandon their Judaism but to reinvent it.” Reconstruct it.

This is congruent, too, with Emerson who wanted a book of revelation to us, not the dry bones of revelation to them. Emerson I know had a lot of Taoist influence, don’t know about Buber.

Mordecai Kaplan

We might find a distinctly American twist on religious sensibility by looking at all of these thinkers, even though Buber was German. I’d say my project about reimagining or reinventing faith is in this tradition. That tradition seems to say, take nothing from books as true. Test their ideas against reality, test them against reality at its deepest in your Self and at its broadest in the world beyond the Self. Be ready for the sacred to surprise you in the petals of a flower, the flow of an avalanche, the innocence of a puppy. Find the divine within your Self and bow to the divine within the other, be it rock, animal, fungus, or human.

The gooseberries and me

In my work I’ve found the soil, the power of plants, perfect examples. When we consider our reliance on the first six inches of top soil, on the mystery of photosynthesis, on the divine miracle that is life whether green or furry or pink or barked, then, we don’t need to go to Luke or the Torah. My scripture and its most profound secrets exist in the wonder of rootlets reaching into the dark for the nutrients held for them in living soil.

Baptized in the Underground Stream

Beltane                                                                     Cancer Moon

20190506_131302Lots of Catholic kitsch in the Mother Cabrini giftshop. I mean, lots. In fact, that’s almost all they have. St. Expeditius here is my favorite, especially his arms.This is a refrigerator magnet and there are others. Including St. Gregory the Wonder Worker invoked in desperate situations.

But, there’s more, so much more. I may pick up an action figure of St. Michael since I find Michaelmas an important holiday. The springtime of the soul, September 29th.

Mother Cabrini action figures, too, some of them very well made. Crucifixes. Prayer cards for particular ills and problems. Mugs with www.anamazingparish on them. Mother Cabrini shrine mugs. Medallions. Jewelry. Lots.

Wandered through the gift shop on the way into the refectory. Good food. Fish, rice, vegetables and a wonderful cherry pie.

The first segment of the workshop is over. It’s called Life Context. The Progoff process plows up the unconscious, kicks up into consciousness both bits from your own unconscious and from what Progoff calls the underground stream. Progoff studied under Jung and the Jungian collective unconscious seems to have influenced him in a profound way.

Another exercise, I mentioned steppingstones yesterday, is inner wisdom dialogue. Progoff wondered, after his time in the army during WWII and the holocaust, what would happen if all the sacred texts disappeared. We would, he decided, write others. After all, we wrote the first ones and that knowledge has to be out there still. Or, better, in here.

Each intensive journal, Progoff believed, is a sacred scripture, a bible of the writer’s own creation. Why? Because it draws on the same source as the Koran, the Torah, the New Testament, the Tao Te Ching, the Diamond Sutra-the underground stream. This is a radical claim, but comports well with, say, Buber, the mystics, Emerson.

The inner wisdom dialogue predicates the underground stream. Each of us made our own list of as many wisdom figures as we could. These wisdom figures can be living or dead, mythological or literary, organic or inorganic. Among mine were Lao Tse, Emerson, Herman Hesse, Shadow Mountain, and the tree I used to visit at the Boot Lake Scientific and Natural Area. It abutted the Carlos Avery Wildlife Reserve in Anoka County.

After entering into a twilight state, a way of getting below the intellect to tap into the unconscious and the underground stream, I wrote my dialogue. I spoke with my tree. It’s a back and forth, leading wherever it goes. The pen follows the deeper you, not the rational mind. At least if the exercise is working well. Mine did.

That tree, with a curved, forked trunk, got passed by when the lumberjacks came because it was not straight enough for lumber; a tall white pine, it grows on an earthen island between two marshy areas. Boot Lake is largely marsh. I scattered Tully’s ashes, some of them, there. I snowshoed to this tree in the winter, walked to in the spring, summer, and fall. I often sat with my back up against its trunk, nestled between two thick roots.

It spoke to me of rootedness, of choosing your place, of reaching deep for what you need, of climbing high for the energy from above. I asked my tree about cancer and it answered. Trust your arborist. Follow through on your treatments. The tree knew of its kindred who have died due to the pine bark beetle. We know illness and death, the tree said.

We also did dialogues with persons important to us, our body, and our creative work.

Today we start the Depth Dimension segment.

 

Just One Tree.

Samain                                                                             Stent Moon

AfforestationBeen thinking about actions to fight climate change. The inversion of the Great Work championed by his Satanic Majesty, the orange tumor on our democracy, threatens human genocide. Intentional mass murder of potentially billions. Hitler and his crowd? Pikers.

Realizing that at least for now the country at the Federal level is going to be not only an obstacle, but an active proponent of carbon emissions, what might an ordinary person do? It has to be something that’s got some heft, but doesn’t require political sophistication, or political activism. What simple thing might fit the bill?

Oddly, I think I know one. When I first started getting to know Jews, now long ago, something that kept coming up in conversation involved trees. Plant a tree in Israel. “With over 240 million planted trees, Israel is one of only two countries that entered the 21st century with a net gain in the number of trees. Due to massive afforestation efforts, this fact echoed in diverse campaigns. Israeli forests are the product of a major afforestation campaign by the Jewish National Fund (JNF).”

Johnny Appleseed

       Johnny Appleseed

That word alone, afforestation. Deforestation and desertification, no. Afforestation. “Afforestation is the process of planting trees, or sowing seeds, in a barren land devoid of any trees to create a forest. The term should not be confused with reforestation, which is the process of specifically planting native trees into a forest that has decreasing numbers of trees.” matteroftrust.org I like replacing the prefix de.

If you click through the link on the Jewish National Fund, you’ll find a page that enables, with a click and a credit card, the opportunity to plant a tree in Israel in memoriam. $18. What if we created a Gaia Global Fund where, with a click and a credit card, you could plant a tree in memoriam or just because. What if each continent identified large areas available for afforestation and, of course, for reforestation, too? Then, continent specific organizers could locate seedlings, planters, and develop a plan for using Gaia Global Fund dollars to get started.

Why might it work? Read this Scientific American article: The Best Technology for Fighting Climate Change Isn’t a Technology.

Not sure about next steps for this. I suppose seeing if anybody else is actively pursuing something similar, but this feels like an idea that could inspire children and grandchildren around the world to participate in saving their own future. By nagging the adults in their lives to plant a tree for them. Just one tree. Imagine.

 

I Know

Fall (last day)                                                                 Healing Moon

Fujinraijin-tawarayaThe weather gods have chosen an apt offering for the last day of fall, 8 inches of snow. In true Colorado fashion it will probably be here tonight and tomorrow, gone by Thursday if not late Wednesday. Looking forward to it. A difference between Colorado and Minnesota exists in forecasting snow. Here in Colorado people pant for the snow, welcome it, do celebratory dances. In Minnesota, not so much. It means work and slick roads in the Gopher State; here snow means beauty, tourist dollars, and will be gone conveniently.

Scheduled my first full chart reading with Elisa on November 16th. I’m curious. The ancientrail to self knowledge never ends.

Having said that. I want to claim what I’ve learned, not keep shuttling it to the back to let new information in. That’s why I’m reluctant to avoidant when it comes to converting to Judaism. I find it compelling in many ways, a practical down-to-earth way of life lived out in a solid community. I love the people at Beth Evergreen and I feel member of the tribe solidarity when anti-Semites shoot up synagogues.

But. I long ago quit molding my perceptions and beliefs to outlines drawn by the dead. Said positively it’s the Emersonian insistence on having revelations to us, not the dry bones of theirs. Doesn’t mean I can’t learn and learn deeply from other faiths, other political beliefs, other gendered views. Of course I can. And I do.

I’ve never found the balance between stating what I’ve discovered, seen, had revealed to me, and the obvious limitedness of it. I know that my knowing is fragmentary, tentative, subject to change. Yet, it is mine and I do have it. On the one hand I seek knowledge like a thirsty desert traveler seeks an oasis. On the other I’ve done so for so long that I have accumulated my own wisdom.

In spite of my logical bent, in spite of my study of systematic thinkers and even my desire to emulate them, I’ve not been able to pull off anything book length. I seem to function best in shorter formats like sermons, blog posts, brief essays. I guess that’s why fiction appeals to me. It’s a medium where my writing can extend itself, dig into the depths of my soul and reveal mySelf, but obliquely.

It’s not that I don’t want to learn new things about myself. I do. It’s just, how do I stop, say that for now this is what I know. It may be different tomorrow, but today, perhaps just for today, I claim this understanding and offer it. Haven’t figured that one out.

Here’s a couple of things I know, at least right now. Death is. As is life. The two are the ultimate dialectic, the ur form of creative tension for all of us. We literally live into death. If we do so without fear or with less fear, then the tension of our end can enliven our present, make it rich and precious. Confronting and accepting death is a key to living well.

This fundamental truth is writ both large and small in the turning of the seasons. Tomorrow we move into the fallow time, the time of a death-like pall on the earth, a necessary pause, rest. During the fallow time, the spring time of the soul, we can dig into our own substrata, let our roots seek nutrients in the collective unconscious. Bloom, even, with new understanding, new acceptance.

With spring the subtle gains of decay will have fed the soil, which will feed the plants, which will feed us.

I also know that love is a rose and you’d better not pick it. Neil Young’s song, made popular by Linda Ronstadt, is a moment of that revelation to us that Emerson sought in each generation. Hear it on Youtube.

(love) Only grows when it’s on the vine.
Handful of thorns and you know you’ve missed it.
Lose your love when you say the word mine.

 

A Life Temporarily Resectioned

Fall                                                                      Healing Moon

1605–15; < Latin resectiōn- (stem of resectiō) a cutting off, trimming, equivalent to resect(us) (see resect) + -iōn- -ion

pruning gooseberries

pruning gooseberries

Always had trouble with the word resection. Why can’t doctors just say, cut out, excise, remove? After Kate’s bowel resection for her bleeding, I decided to finally figure out this word.

As with most technical language, it’s more precise than removing a piece. Instead of cutting out a piece of the colon, a surgeon resections it. Resecting can mean any degree of alteration in an organ from outright removal, to partial removal, to altering it in some way short even of partial removal. The best synonym I found, the one that helped me finally get it was this. Pruning.

As a former horticulturist, I did a lot of pruning. Cutting this diseased part of a plant away. Removing an errant branch or stem. Thinning blooms to create larger flowers. Resecting all along and didn’t know it. Sometimes there was total resection of a plant no longer healthy, or of plants out of place (otherwise known as weeds).

down the hill and through the woods to Grandma's room we go

down the hill and through the woods to Grandma’s room we go

I’m belaboring this etymology because I realized how useful this word was for describing what I’ve done for the last two weeks or so. I temporarily resectioned my life. I pruned away all that was not essential. That left being with Kate, understanding her medical condition, showing up for procedures and recovery, sitting with her. It left giving the dogs as normal a life as possible. After all, they don’t understand the situation. It left feeding myself and getting plenty of sleep. It left writing Ancientrails and posting on the Caringbridge website about Kate’s progress. Everything else got pruned away.

No CBE work. No writing. No exercise. Minimal grocery shopping, some work outside. Filling the car with gas, getting the oil changed. Necessary maintenance.

2014, Andover

2014, Andover

I chose to prune away parts of my life so I could attend to an unusual occurrence, an anomaly that required most of me. With Kate now in rehab, her bleeding behind her, that severe pruning, like I would do to the raspberry canes at the end of the season, cutting them off to the ground, will fade away. Though. When she comes home, there will still be home care for her, of course. But, the driving and leaving the dogs behind for hours at a time will be over.

Our lives can require these rescections. Sometimes they’re temporary, as this one will have been, sometimes they’re permanent, like Kate’s surgery. If Kate had needed more home-based care, this resectioning might have become more permanent. This can happen in the third phase, when one partner requires a good deal more care.

Feeling level. Lighter.

Eternal Return

Lughnasa                                                                Harvest Moon

mabonLughnasa and the Harvest Moon. We are in the season of reaping what has been sown. From the first of August or so until Samain on October 31st gathering in is the main theme on the Great Wheel. The fall equinox, Mabon, is near. September 22nd. It comes with the Harvest Moon, that fluke of planetary dynamics that has lit up farm fields at just the right moment for as long humans have been farming.

No longer a Midwesterner, I don’t see the combines in the long rectangles of wheat, the corn pickers going through the tall stands of sturdy green, the hay balers saving alfalfa and timothy for feed. There are no ads here for hay rides through the apple orchards, no pick your own gardens for late season fruits. That sort of agriculture depends on rain and once past the 100th parallel, oops now the 105th as the arid West creeps eastward across the Great Plains, average rainfall becomes less, often much less than 20 inches a year.

Here fall and Mabon announce themselves in the gold of the aspen, jewel like groves set among larger stands of forever green lodgepole pine. Along the mountain streams Maxwell, Cub, Bear some dogwood flashes bright red. Low lying marshy areas turn a green gold and the cattail spikes stand proudly. Too, the mule deer and elk begin to come down from their summer fields, following food. There will be, in a week or two, the elk rut, with that strangled sound the bull elks make, a bugle. There will also be many more tourists here this week and next. The come for the jewels on the mountain sides, scenes I can see from my study window.

great wheel3The Great Wheel turns, but its turning is the original local expressing a universal. Here the golden aspen in the Midwest the great harvest machines lumbering through fields. In the Midwest stunning colors here a dichromatic palette. How the harvest season manifests depends on weather and here in the Rockies altitude. Pikes Peak and Mt. Rosalie near Bailey, for instance, have already had their first snow, passing out of the harvest season.

The expression of the season also depends on the plant species that have adapted themselves to a particular locale. One dominant deciduous tree, the aspen, makes our montane ecosystem much different from the remnants of the great woods that dominates the Midwest. Then there are the animals. Pheasants in the Dakotas and Nebraska. Elk and mule deer on the Front Range. Coordinates matter, too. Fall is different here at latitude 39 degrees than in, say, Warroad, Minnesota at 49 degrees. The other marker, the longitude, we’ve already referred to.

green knight

green knight

I celebrate the turning of the wheel, await its changes with anticipation. There is comfort, at least to me, in the regularity and predictability of the seasons. They tell me that time is not linear, that it is instead a spiral, cork-screwing its way through spacetime. They tell me that eternal return is written into the way of the universe, that even our life and its mayfly like time compared to the mountains on which I live, is, too, part of a great coming and going, a leaving and coming home. Somehow, through some mechanism now hidden to me, this life I’ve lived will matter and its significance, like your own, will revisit humanity, tempered and changed by the seasons of the universe. I suppose, in this way, we are all immortal, at least until the cold death of this cosmos. But, perhaps, even in that case, we will live on in one of the infinite multiverses, offering our harvest of human consciousness to feed other souls.

 

Gifts. All day long.

Lughnasa                                                                Waning Summer Moon

Rigel and Kepler

Rigel and Kepler

What gifts did I get yesterday? The first question before I go to sleep. Woke up, emerged from unconsciousness to consciousness. Breathed the whole night long. Kate was next to me, sleeping, my partner. Kepler was, as always, happy to see me wake up. He rolls over so I can scratch his stomach, his tail goes up into happy mode. As the morning service says, the orifices that needed to open, opened, and closed when appropriate. There was water at the tap, always a gift in this arid climate. The meds that my doc has prescribed to help me extend my health span got washed down with some.

Gertie and Rigel were happy to see me, coming up for a nuzzle and a lean. The air was cool and the stars still out. Shadow Mountain stayed stable underneath me. The carrier brought the Denver Post and we read the collective work of its reporters, recorded by the printers on newsprint made most likely in Canada.

the loft

the loft

When I went up to the loft, I got on this computer, using electricity supplied by the Inter Mountain Rural Electric Association. As the sun came up, our own solar panels began translating its energy that traveled 93 million miles, generated by the powerful nuclear fusion of our star. My mind is still sharp enough to put words together, thoughts. My hands still nimble enough to pound the keyboard.

All these gifts and we’re only at about 6 am. The list goes on throughout the day. Kate at the table when I go down for breakfast. The workout created by my personal trainer. Time to nap. A mussar class focused on tzedakah and zaka, how can we purify our soul by gifting resources to others. A car that runs on gas brought here by oil tanker, trucks, a gift from the plant and animal life of long ago, crushed into liquid form by the power of geological processes. Back to Beth Evergreen for the second time for the annual meeting.

There the gifts of people, relationships built and nurtured over the last few years, granting both of us the opportunity to be seen, known, and the chance to offer who we are and what we have. Finally, the cycle ends with a return to sleep, to unconsciousness. Hard to avoid gratitude after doing this sort of exercise each night.

The Sweet Life

Lughnasa                                                                      Monsoon Moon

CBE (1)Discovering an odd phenomenon. My feelings bubble up with less filtering. I don’t feel depressed, not labile. Not really sure how to explain this, though it may be a third phase change? Or, maybe just me, for some reason.

At the MIA last week, for example, there was the strong feeling of grief in the Asian collection. Warm feelings for my friends in Minnesota were also strong. On the way home I was happy on the road. Noticeably. Kate triggers a powerful, more powerful than ever feeling of love. When I watched a TV program in which the main character’s mother died suddenly of a stroke, I was right with him emotionally. Yesterday, at the Bat Mitzvah of Gwen Hirsch, I kept shoving back the occasional tear. Her initial struggle with being upfront, her beautiful voice and the clear joy with which she overcame her fright, so evident when she carried the torah scroll around the sanctuary, made it appear she was becoming a different person, right then. Her transition/transformation was breathtaking and so sweet.

Ruth at DomoIn fact, there’s another example. Over the last few months I’ve been using the word sweet a lot. Our dogs are sweet. Ruth. The folks at Beth Evergreen. Minnesota friends. The loft. My life. I seem to see sweetness more now. I haven’t lost my political edge, my anger at injustice or a willingness to act, but the world has much, much more nuance now at an emotional level.

This change in my inner life has made me more resilient, I think, more able to identify the emotions, accept them, learn from them, respond or not, and move on. Enriched. It’s as if there’s more color in my day to day. Who knows? It might be a phase or I might be melancholy, my feelings are usually closer to the surface then, but I don’t think so. This feels like a permanent change.

Seeing the holy soul, my mussar practice for this month, accentuates this. I saw Gwen’s holy soul yesterday and it was a thing of beauty. I see the hosta struggling with a dry spell, but I know their holy soul makes them strong even in this sort of adversity. Gertie’s blind eye and painful rear quarter, her missing teeth have not dimmed her holy soul, it moves her into a bouncing, happy girl in spite of them.

slash from beetle killed lodgepole pine

slash from beetle killed lodgepole pine

I can, too, see the holy souls with damaged personas. Occasionally, I’ll see an aggressive dog or one that cowers, yet beneath those defensive outer layers, the warm and kind dog soul is still visible although it might be hard to reach. People, too. The young boy with violent tendencies, with a stubbornness that might be on the spectrum, with the sweetness for those who are sick, his holy soul is, even at this young age, hidden, so hard to find. Or, another, her reason so tortured by ideology, her essential kindness most often blocked by bitterness. Or a lodgepole pine dying of pine beetle infestation. Even as its needles turn brown and it begins to dry out, its holy soul keeps it upright as long as it can. We can never err when we search for the holy soul in others.

Look insideI see my own holy soul, now claiming more space, taking back some of the aspects of my life I had given over to achievement, to striving. This is strange because it comes as I’ve begun to reach for achievements I’ve blocked for decades. The work of submitting my writing feels both unimportant and necessary. I’m immersed in a community, Beth Evergreen, which encourages the growth and expansion of my holy soul. This is true religion, with the small r, the connecting and reconnecting of our inner life with the great vastness, our part in it highlighted, made clear at the same time as our limitedness.

 

 

 

 

The Week Ahead

Summer                                                                                Monsoon Moon

20180711_065526Finished entering the edits for Superior Wolf, 3.0. I have three plot points to resolve, none of them major. Next step is to craft a query letter, then submit it to an agent. I have a local, Denver-based agent that I think might be interested in my work, but she doesn’t open up for submissions again until July 28th. That’s why I pushed to get this revision done, so I’ll be ready.

Got out the garden tools yesterday and began splitting hosta. Kate wanted some in the front rock garden and she wanted the bed along the north facing side of the house filled in. Got about half way done, then the heat took over. Will finish this morning. If it dries out today (nice rain yesterday and last night), I’m going to mow the fines.

The recipe

The recipe

Back is slowly resolving. Not near as ouchy as it was two weeks ago, even a week ago. Keep moving. Get good sleep. The tramadol helps. One at night before bed.

We bought a quarter beef last year, still have a good deal of meat in the freezer.  Took a porterhouse out last night, pan seared, then broiled. Boiled potatoes. Watermelon gazpacho of my own design, including a whole pomegranate. I enjoy cooking except when the house is hot. Then, not so much.

Ruth is off on a 5 day back packing adventure at Camp Calwood this week. Both she and Jon head back to school in early August, Gabe not till later. Different schools and school districts.

Kate had a better week in regard to her nausea, but she still had a couple of bad days. Like yesterday. Tough to keep emotional equilibrium for her. She does an amazing job of it, difficult with regular insults.

A pondersoa pine at Beth Evergreen

A pondersoa pine at Beth Evergreen

Tomorrow I have a full day training on the B’nai Mitzvah program at a synagogue in Denver. It’s put on by Moving Traditions, a religious school support organization for Jewish education. Jews take their religious school seriously, so this is way beyond Bible School or Sunday School. It’s real school.

A week from tomorrow I leave for Minnesota. Groveland UU celebrates achieving Covenanting Community status with the UUA on Saturday. I’ve been asked to say something, along with three other speakings. Probably I’ll do something about covenant  from a reconstructionist perspective. Not sure yet.