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.

Hark, The Herald Angels Sang…

Winter                                                                                    Stent Moon

20161203_083509

Happily in pain.    2016

ChristmasNot long after my December 1st, 2016, knee surgery, I had an odd moment. It was Hanukkah. Gabe and Ruth were plowing through their presents, and I sat on the couch, my leg up and some combination of pain meds circulating, morphine and oxycontin, I think. Ruth lit the menorah. A sudden, overwhelming (undoubtedly drug accelerated) sense of dislocation came over me. Sadness, too. What was I doing in this house? No Christmas tree. No decorations. This exotic holiday had pushed all that away and left me on the outside.

It was true nostalgia.* And it was painful. I swirled down, feeling a deep longing to get back to the seasons with which I was familiar. To push away this foreign intervention. To put myself under the Christmas tree on 419 N. Canal Street. All the way back. Not Colorado. Not Minnesota. Not Wisconsin. Indiana. An old fashioned, true to my culture Christmas.

Meanwhile Gabe was click-clacking a Rubik’s cube. Ruth held a money jar Kate had made for her. A fire crackled in the fire place and the menorah burned quietly on the dining table. No one knew I was somewhere else, sometime else. Here’s something from that day’s post:

                                                   2016

The Christmas spirit that still flows around this secular, pagan heart saw them. (Hanukkah presents) And rejected the moment. What followed was a period of dislocation, the closest analogy I can give is culture shock.

What was I doing in this house with this holiday underway? Mom, Dad, Mary and Mark rose up. I missed them all, a lot. Further the friends from Minnesota. Why was I here in cold Colorado, in the mountains, when my family and friends were dead or far away?

Having experience with the not so subtle influence of drugs on the mind, I knew this was both a false response and a true one. It was false in that I loved these kids, Kate, Jews all, and had begun to get more involved at Congregation Beth Evergreen. It was true in that Christmas spirit is a real thing, a tangible and mostly positive emotional state engendered by the church, by family, by memories of Christmas past, and, of course, by your favorite retail establishments. And at that moment I missed it.

Two years later the knee is fine, better than fine actually. I’m not using any drugs. (except at bedtime) And I’m much further along in the assimilation process I mentioned a few posts ago. My peri-Jewish identity has congealed around my membership at CBE. I’m part of a community I love, surrounded by people who love us and have shown that over and over again in the last few months. Love is a verb, after all.

Angelic host proclaiming the wonder of your birth

               Angelic host proclaiming the wonder of your birth

Last night was the night before Christmas. Today is Christmas day. The festive part of the day will be the big meal at noon and seeing Jon, Ruth, and Gabe at 2 pm. I’m ok with that. It feels like the right amount of celebration for us.

So. Christmas now has two components. One is much more tempered nostalgia than I felt in December, 2016, a warm spot from days now gone by. The second, and more important to me, is as a festival of incarnation, a celebration of the divine and human mixed inextricably together. As the bells ring out this Christmas day and churches the old familiar carols play, I’ll recall the folks I love, the animals I love. I’ll see past the mundane and look into their souls. There is the ohr. There is the divine. There is the sacred. And guess what? When I look in the mirror, I see the same thing.

*”…the term was coined by a 17th-century Swiss army physician who attributed the fragile mental and physical health of some troops to their longing to return home — nostos in Greek, and algos, the pain that attended thoughts of it.” The Guardian, Nov. 9, 2014

The Sacred Marriage

Winter                                                                            Stent Moon

ohrOn the drive over to Tony’s Market to pick up Christmas dinner I got to thinking about ohr, the shards of divine light kabbalists believe actually make up the known universe. When I bow to the divine light in you and you bow to the divine light in me, we say that makes sense in that framework. So there can be the ohr, the light of the divine blasted apart at the moment of creation; but, I thought, there’s also the more immediate light, that of the sun.

It’s correct in every important way to say our life spark comes from and looks back to the sun. Photosynthesis creates the food we eat, whether at its primary source in plants or in a secondary source like meat. So the divine light could also be solar, the power of the fusion engine that is our star.

More and more I see the divine sun in sacred marriage with the holy goddess, mother earth. It is through the constant and intimate play between these two that all life emerges. In this sense then the celebration of the incarnation observed tomorrow can be seen as a holiday created to honor us as children of the sun and the earth. Of course, not just us, but all of the animate creations here.

We differ from the rest of the animate world, as far we know, primarily in our capacity to know our creators, the creature knowing the creator, or, said another way, the creators looking on themselves through their creation.

sacredIt is this dance, the days of the dancing star, that we are thrown into this world to execute. Sure, you could take this and conclude a scientistic flat-earth humanism, minus the divinity, but it seems to me you end up in the same place with a reductionistic refusal to see the simcha, the joy, of life as part of, not separate from. It is the bondedness we have with our star and our planet which is divinity, we are part of a dialectic between power and fertile elements, a fruit, in fact, of its creative tension.

Sure, you could also take this perspective and place a whole pantheon in and around it. Aurora. Shiva. Mithras. Yahweh. Even baby Jesus. But I believe it is this pair, this vital union of star and planet that both makes us and teaches us about our sacred relationship to the whole universe through the example of their intimacy. I see no need to add more deities though I don’t think it hurts. Not exactly. As long as we keep our hearts on the source, we can names its elements as we wish. That creative and destructive nature both sun and earth have. Sure, Shiva. The still point, the apparent stability of the earth below, the mountain above, the ocean spread out. Vishnu. The sun appearing as the earth turns on its axis. Aurora. The dangerous interplay among humans and among humans and the rest of the creation. Yahweh. Your presence as a manifestation of this sacred marriage? Jesus.

I come back now to the Great Wheel, that cyclical turning of mother earth around her sol, how it reflects our lives as they grow and change. It is the great scripture in which we can read of our gods, know their moods, and how we can celebrate their deep meaning in our lives. Blessed be.

Assimilating. In reverse.

Winter                                                                           Stent Moon

Black Mountain, this month, from the loft

Black Mountain, this month, from the loft

Sol Invictus has risen, not daunted by the long night. Unconquerable, life giving, a true light for our world. Black Mountain and its lodgepole pine, its groves of aspen, its slashes of ski runs is visible against a bright white clouded sky. A great wakin’ up morning if you’re a devotee of the two who give us life, Sol and Gaia. Blessed be.

Wanted to make a quick note of something I realized the other day. Assimilation. Assimilation assumes, correctly I think, that each culture is a semi-permeable membrane. Varying levels of porosity create more endogenous, more exogenous groups. Our immigration debate, for example, is an attempt to adjust the degree of porosity of American culture. One side wants less permeability and that only under strict expectations of full assimilation. The other side wants more permeability and a recognition of the vitality that blending and mixing of cultures engenders.

Inside subgroups of a dominant culture, say Latinos in the U.S., Jews in the U.S., for example there’s always a tension between maintaining group norms, those things that keep the subgroup distinctive and recognizable, and the necessity of living and working and loving in a culture different from their own. This is neither bad nor good, it just is. As I understand the American experiment, we’ve intended a greater level of porosity than most other nations, defining ourselves by the American Dream:  “The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals (democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity and equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, as well as an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.”  wikipedia

An ancestor who lived almost two hundred years after Richard Ellis arrived

An ancestor, Demick Ellis, who lived almost two hundred years after Richard Ellis arrived (1888)

I love China towns, Korea towns, Japan towns, Latino neighborhoods, black neighborhoods, Italian and Greek and Russian neighborhoods. African restaurants, Cuban restaurants, Japanese restaurants. You get the point. Jewish delis.

Since my folks arrived on these shores in 1707, Ellises, and during the American Revolution, Spitlers, assimilation has never been an issue for me. I represent and live in the dominant culture, the one which assimilates, in the dominant world power of our time (until, maybe, right now), again the one which assimilates other nations. So it came as a surprise to me the other day when I realized I had begun, under the radar of my consciousness, probably for the reason of white, long standing US family history and privilege, the process of assimilation. You might call it reverse assimilation, but I don’t. It’s just assimilation.

ChesedI’ve begun to assimilate into Jewish culture. Different from becoming  a Jew, just like Jewish assimilation into American culture is different from no longer being a Jew, my identity is largely intact, but I find myself much more aware of living life through a Jewish lens. Their holidays are now mine. Their community, mine. Their marginal reality, also mine, though this last requires a full choice on my part, not just acquiescence. That is, I choose to stand with my new culture against all elements domestic and foreign and not to retire into privilege when things get hairy.

I’m at a point in my journey where I feel no need for formal conversion. I’m a person of my own religious persuasion and Beth Evergreen allows me to give it full expression even while immersed in Jewish life. Like I said long ago here I’m a fellow traveler, but now a fellow traveler who’s close to becoming a quasi cultural native. Strange, huh?