Akeda

Winter                                                                    Waxing Moon

Big excitement this morning. Into Stevinson Toyota for a Rav4 oil change. Last oil change came on the Monday of Kate’s no good, very bad, horrible weekend at the end of September. That oil has degraded over the whole twilight circus of events since then. This fresh oil comes as the news begins to look better. It will degrade as the Waxing Moon works and puts the unhappy last quarter of 2018 to rest. Looking for a better story in the first quarter of 2019.

Painted some yesterday. Both sumi-e and oil painting have put me back in a tactile world gardening occupied in Minnesota.

Here’s my latest, akeda. Akeda means binding in Hebrew and in Jewish tradition evokes the binding of Isaac by Abraham.

Akeda

                                                        Akeda

Yesterday morning I created a lesson plan for the religious school. Yirah. The akeda could be used as an example of yirah. How terrible, how frightening. Sacrifice the son whom Sarah bore in her 90’s. Isaac means, he laughed, to remember Abraham and Sarah’s response to the news that she would bear a child. Not only was Isaac the improbable son of Sarah’s old age, he was also the son who would fulfill the covenant God made with Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the “stars in the sky.” Killing him as a sacrifice would mean the end of Sarah’s miracle and the promise of God. Yet, he went ahead with the akeda.

A friend of mine in Minnesota, a Sierra club activist, was in an accident on January 14th. Her 18 year old son, Henry, a freshman at Bowdoin college, drove. She was in the passenger seat. A pickup truck drifted into their lane. The wreck killed Henry. Sarah survived with non-life threatening injuries. Since her brief announcement on facebook, “Devastating news. We lost Henry in a car accident. Only 18. So much potential,” I’ve been cycling through imagining the awful pain of losing a child.

 

 

The Holy

Winter                                                                     Waxing Moon

Going for calories

Going for calories

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

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

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

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

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

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

Processed with VSCOcam with p5 preset

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

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

 

iottoru001p1

iottoru001p1

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

 

 

 

Dark Vessel Rising

submarineWinter                                                                                    Waxing Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awesome, Dude

Winter                                                                              Waxing Moon

Yesterday

Yesterday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Simcah

Winter                                                                              Waxing Moon

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

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

Tara teaching Hebrew with my class

Tara teaching Hebrew with my class

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

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

Ryan, Tara, Liya

Ryan, Tara, Liya

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

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

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

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

 

A Feynman Method Explanation

Winter                                                                            Waxing Moon

feynmanRichard Feynman, the physicist, had a technique for learning. It’s pretty straight forward in its explanation:

  1. Choose a Concept
  2. Teach it to a child
  3. Identify Gaps and Go Back to The Source Material
  4. Review and Simplify (optional)

I’ve not used it before, but I’m going to try now with reimagining/reconstructing faith. I hope that by clarifying it this way, I can further my year theme: Seeking the myth beyond reason.

To Gabe. What do you need to stay alive? Food, yes. Oxygen, yes. Anything else? A house or place to live, yes.

20190101_103345OK. Let’s start with food. Where does food come from? The grocery store. Well, that’s where we buy it. But where does the grocery store get the food? From trucks? OK. How about the trucks. Where do they get the food?

From farms? Right. And, gardens. And, orchards. And, the ocean. Can you guess my next question? Where do the farms and the gardens and the orchards and the ocean get the food? What’s that? Plants and animals? Right again. You’ve got this, Gabe.

Think about the animals for a minute, Gabe. What kind of animals do we eat? Pigs and chickens. Check. Cows. Check. Fish. Check. Shrimp and turkeys. Check. That’s enough for now. So. Where do the pigs, chickens, cows, fish, shrimp, and turkey get their food? You don’t know? What’s that? Grass. Yes, good. Cows eat grass don’t they? What about chickens? Insects? For sure. How about pigs? Well, some pigs eat acorns. Others eat roots, fruit, fish. Yes, fish. That seems strange doesn’t it? What about shrimp? What do they eat? They eat tiny, tiny plants that live and grow in the water. Fish? What do they eat? Some eat plants that grow in the water, some eat insects, some eat other fish and other ocean animals.

photosynthesisDid you notice that a lot of the food the animals eat comes from plants? Acorns, grass, roots, tiny plants that live in water? What about the rest? Insects, other fish? What do insects eat? Some do eat other insects, that’s right. Praying mantises, for example. But most insects eat plants. Grasshoppers do. Leafchewers. Some eat plant roots. Some eat the nectar, like bees.

Here’s the thing, Gabe. When you really, really look at what animals eat, even if they eat other animals, you’ll find that the animals they eat get their food from plants. That’s strange isn’t it? Does that mean we all get our food from plants? Well, yes, in a way. If the hamburger you like tastes good, it’s because the cows ate grass and corn and beans. Can you guess my next question?

Exactly. Where do the plants get their food? What an interesting question. Land based plants dig deep into the soil with their roots. Their roots take water from the soil and some other things the plant needs to live. Here’s what might seem like a weird question. What color are plants?

Green. That’s right, Gabe! What part of the plants are green? Their leaves. Right again. What? Oh, their stalks, too? Yes. On many plants that’s right. They’re green, too. Here’s the really, really weird part, Gabe. Those green leaves? They make food for the plant from sunlight and water and vitamins from the soil.

photoHow do they do it? Even scientists have a hard time explaining it, but somehow the leaves take sunlight, water, and other things from the soil and make what the plant needs to live. Amazing, right? Sunlight, water, and nourishment from the soil. Nourishment? What does it mean? It just means anything that helps you live, or helps plants live. And you know what’s also amazing? Guess what the plants send out into the air when they’re done making food? Oxygen! That’s right, plants feed animals and they give off the thing we need to breathe to stay alive. Wow. Go, plants!

Now let’s see. Where are we, Gabe? You told me you need food to stay alive. And, oxygen. What’s that? Water. Water, too. We tracked down where food comes from, didn’t we? It all starts with plants and the sun and the soil and water. Plants get what they need from the sun, from mother earth and from the water on mother earth.

Sun. Mother Earth. Oxygen. Water. Without any of them, Gabe, you and Ruth and your mom and dad couldn’t stay alive. You’d die without oxygen which plants put into the air. You’d die without food, which plants create from the sun and water and nourishment (remember what nourishment is?) from mother earth.

Sol Invictus by Jake Baddeley

Sol Invictus by Jake Baddeley

When it comes to what I’m thankful for Gabe, I’m grateful for you, of course, and your family, but I’m also grateful for the sun. The sun provides us with light, heat, and now we know it also plays a key role in providing us with food. Without sun the plants can’t make their own food. I’m grateful for mother earth. She provides nourishment for the plants and through them for us. I’m grateful for the water we have to drink. Did you know it gets made good to drink by going into clouds and coming back down as rain and snow? It’s true. I’m grateful for clouds and rain and snow, too. I like fresh water to drink.

Gabe, I know you’ve been raised Jewish. That’s the religion of your mom. I don’t know how important it is to you right now, but I remember it was important enough that you didn’t like Christmas when you were five. There are a lot of religions, aren’t there? Let’s see if we can name some. Christianity. Judaism. Islam. Hinduism. Do you know that one? It comes from India. Buddhism. Taoism. You may not know that one. It comes from China. Lots and lots more, too.

religionI used to be a Christian, a while back. But, not anymore. What is a religion, do you think? There’s so many different ones that it’s hard to say. To me religions are about what is most important to you. What matters. It might be your relationships with your mom and dad, or Ruth, or your friends. How are you supposed to treat those close to you? It might be about animals and how you’re supposed to treat them. Do you remember when Herschel died? Your great-grandma? Your great-grandpa? Did you ever wonder what happened to Herschel and your great-grandparents after they die? Me, too. I’m not sure, but it is a question most religions try to answer.

Do you suppose a religion could be about food and where it comes from? Oxygen and where it comes from? Staying alive is pretty important. We agreed on that earlier. Right now my religion, my thoughts on what are most important, is about food, oxygen, and the things that make them. The sun and mother earth are like a god and a goddess to me. Together they make it possible for you and me to be alive. Through their children, the plants and the animals, they make possible the whole wonderful world of zebras, dogs, Ruth, you Gabe, forests, seaweed, whales, tuna, peanuts, apples, and oranges. Pretty amazing.

great wheel2Think of it, Gabe. The sun, that distant star that gives us daytime, the one we see everyday, provides us with the heat and energy to live. Mother earth, the ground we walk on everyday, that holds us up, that we see in parks and farm fields and mountains, provides a home for us and nourishment for the plants. The plants provide food for animals. And animals and plants make food for us. They also make our oxygen. You just breathed some in right now.

That’s enough for me, Gabe. The sun, mother earth. Their children. Us. When I drive through the forest, I’m driving in my church, my synagogue. When the rain or the snow falls on my head, it’s a holy act made possible by mother earth through her clouds. What’s that? You don’t know the word holy?

shamanic-spiral-with-qouteI think of the holy as something both amazing and mysterious. Imagine all the time you spent inside your mom’s womb, growing from two cells into the boy you are now. Amazing and mysterious. Think about a plant’s leaf taking energy from sunlight, mixing it somehow with water and nourishment from the soil to create food, give off oxygen. Amazing and mysterious. Or, how about the change from winter to spring when the cold goes away. Flowers come up. Trees put out their leaves. Grass turns green. Up here in the mountains you see fawns and elk calves. Amazing and mysterious. All holy.

And here’s one more amazing and mysterious piece. You were born on April 22nd, Earth Day, a day dedicated to Mother Earth. And, guess what. April 22nd was a Sunday that year. So you were also born on the day of the week that honors the sun. The sun and mother earth. You share a special relationship with them, Gabe.

 

 

Seeking the myth beyond reason

Winter                                                                             Waxing Moon

ta phrom

ta phrom

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

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

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

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

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

Unergründlich (The Unfathomable), 1874.

Unergründlich (The Unfathomable), 1874.

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

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

Crullers, Empanadas, Goddesses, and Mussar

Winter                                                                                Waxing Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Fixed or Fluid

Winter                                                                Stent Moon

joy friends (2)The stent moon is a crescent, 12% illumination, hanging over Eduardo and Holly’s. It’s been everything I hoped. Next, a month focused on getting Kate’s weight up. What would you name the moon for that month? I’ll take ideas until Friday.

At night, before going to sleep, I identify the gifts given to me during the day, the gifts I’ve given and any trouble I’ve caused. Then, on waking I identify things I’m grateful for and things that bring joy. These simple habits, developed in mussar work over the last year, keep me aware of the ongoing miracle of the ordinary.

20181230_064700I woke up. The air is cool. My body’s ok. Kate’s beside me with no nausea or cramping. Kepler’s wagging his tail, ready to go upstairs for breakfast. The power came back on yesterday after a long outage. The generator works. I didn’t even know it was on. The long road to DIA offered good conversation with our second son. He’s going back to Minnesota to spend time with a friend who’s depressed. That gives me joy. Ruth up here painting and giving me tips. Joy. Pure. Gertie’s kisses. Murdoch’s bouncy, smiley presence. Snow. Cold. The black clear night sky with stars and a crescent moon. A car that works. SeoAh’s cooking. Kate’s joy at her relief. Gifts, joys, and gratitude. Everywhere I look.

biopolitics2Are there challenges? Oh, yes. But our human tendency to scan the horizon for threats, be alert for danger often blinds us to everyday wonders. Life is not all about illness, or finances, or legal trouble, or separation from loved ones. Yes, these matters crop up in our lives just like the occasional predatory lion or tiger came upon our ancestors in the veldt or in the forests of India and, yes, we need to see them, understand them, respond. We do not, however, have to build our lives around them.

I’m reading an interesting book by two North Carolina political scientists, Prius or Pickup. It posits a continuum on these very matters with one ended anchored in a fixed worldview and the other in a fluid worldview. The fixed worldview folks see danger and threat wherever they look. Those with a fluid worldview have more confidence in the world, focus more on the richness of life. In between are various blends between the two that the authors call a mixed worldview.  They argue that over the last few decades our political life has gradually aggregated those with a more fixed worldview in the Republican Party and those with a more fluid worldview in the Democratic.

20180720_124756

Stay Calm and Keep on Fracking, Evergreen, 2018

A field I didn’t even know existed, biopolitics, ties these worldviews to neurological differences, our partisan political environment has an increasing gap of understanding. Since that gap has roots in our neurobiology, we find it increasingly difficult to understand, or perhaps more importantly, trust anyone in the other camp. I’ve not finished the book so I don’t know what they propose. Gifts, joy, and gratitude identifying habits might help.

2019 lies mostly ahead of us. Yes, it’s an artificial segmentation of our ongoing orbit around the sun, but it does  mark the end of one orbit and the beginning of another. (though any day of the year would serve just as well) So we might consider, as we set off on another journey of 584 million miles, what, over all that distance, over that pilgrimage on which all us earthlings travel, we’ll choose as our focus. The threats in our life? Or, the joys, the ordinary miracles? Where we put our attention is our choice.

 

 

Janus

Winter                                                                               Stent Moon

JanusAging brings with it an inevitable glance over the shoulder. Did I matter? If so, how? If not, why? Does it matter if I mattered? I suppose it would be possible to disappear into regrets or vanity or even anguish. But, why?

The past, though we can change its role in our life by reframing, paradigm shifting, or, best in my opinion, acceptance, ended a moment ago. No do overs.

Interestingly, the New Year brings the same glance over the shoulder. At or around January 1st we become Janus* faced, looking squarely at the past year and the one upcoming. He’s the Ganesh of Roman mythology, the one you want on your side as you change jobs, get married, have a child. Wonder about the year ahead. And, the one behind.

As we inch past 70, Janus becomes a god with whom we must contend, one we may worship, even without knowing. He is the archetype for being of two minds, for that part of us that feels pulled back or pushed forward out of the moment.

When tomorrow comes and resolutions start to form, if you do resolutions, they will be concrete expressions of Janus in you. What were things out of the past year I might change for the better? Or out of my whole past? Resolutions express a regret and a hope. Wish I’d been less angry, more loving. Eaten a healthier diet. Been more aware of my authentic yearnings. And followed them. Wish I’d fallen in love. Or gotten out of that damned relationship. As a heuristic, a motivator for positive change, letting Janus take over for a limited time makes sense.

Janus_Bifrons_by_Adolphe_Giraldon

With him in the forefront we can see what was, imagine what might have been, then look forward to how we might live differently. But he is a god and you can’t let him take control. If all your time is spent with Janus’ two-faced view, you will be constantly out of the now, always taking a step back or a step ahead. If you look longer with his past oriented visage, you will tend toward depression. If your gaze looks toward the future overly long, you will tend toward anxiety.

Perhaps a shrine or an altar to Janus could help with this. The Numa Janus shrine** had gates that could be opened or closed. Open, Rome was at war. Closed, Rome was at peace. A small shrine at home might have a door that could be open or closed. When open, you’re consulting the Janus moments in your life, staying open to the truth of the past and its importance for your future. When closed, you’re trying to remain in the present, not get pulled away to what was or ahead to what to might be.

On December 31st, the Days of Awe, and maybe your birthday or anniversary, open the gate of your own shrine. Sit with Janus for a while. Feel in your person the frisson between the face that sees yesterday and the face that sees tomorrow. Consider what that feeling means for your life, not as a route to depression or anxiety, but as a way of knowing how they link together, or better, how they might link together. Take yesterday’s lessons and let them inform life as it moves toward tomorrow. After that, close the gate and live now.

 

 

*…the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings.” Wiki

**”Janus presided over the beginning and ending of conflict, and hence war and peace. The gates of a building in Rome named after him (not a temple, as it is often called, but an open enclosure with gates at each end) were opened in time of war, and closed to mark the arrival of peace (which did not happen very often)…Numa built the Ianus geminus (also Janus Bifrons, Janus Quirinus or Portae Belli), a passage ritually opened at times of war, and shut again when Roman arms rested.[49] It formed a walled enclosure with gates at each end, situated between the old Roman Forum and that of Julius Caesar, which had been consecrated by Numa Pompilius himself.”  op cit.