My Ancient Spiritual Trail

Summer and the Radiation Moon

My friend Rich sees mussar as a metaphysical, not a psychological discipline. It’s soul work, deeper and more consequential than therapy.

Over the last year and a half my skeptical view of soul has begun to break up, fade away. First, from the Cosmos and Psyche (thanks, Tom) insight: Skepticism is a tool, not a lifestyle. Second, from a spiritual realization that despite its implication in the arguments over, say, original sin, soul nonetheless points to a felt reality for me, a phenomenological knowing. Not a dogmatic or doctrinal one.

Big deal, right? You always knew this? Or, no way, dude. Either way, so what?

And, of course, you’re right if you follow this often used, little understood idea back to its sources in Judaeo-Christian thought. Its use either assumed-you always knew this, or, so mean and inhuman, eternal hell for a few years on earth-no way, dude.

The Judaeo-Christian understanding incorporated the Greek notion of psyche, “…the mental abilities of a living being: reason, character, feeling, consciousness, memory, perception, thinking” with a notion of immortality connected to behavior in this life.

I want to push back, back beyond this narrow conception of soul. There was an assumption among the ancient Greeks that soul had to have a logical faculty, and, that it was the most divine attribute of a human soul. ( The current scientific consensus across all fields is that there is no evidence for the existence of any kind of soul in the traditional sense. Wiki.)

First I want to speak for the trees. Let’s call it the Loraxian understanding of the soul. The lodgepoles in our yard, crawling up Black Mountain, growing along Brook Forest Drive as it winds down the mountain. They have souls. They are both alive and animate, creatures with a telos, or end goal. They interact with their environment and grow strong or weak, tall or short, but they remain lodgpole pines, trees with a particular role in a montane ecosystem, a role which they give all they have to fulfill.

The same is true for the mule deer, the mountain lion, the marsh marigold, the elk, the bear, the fox, the squirrel, the dandelion, the cheatgrass, the Indian paintbrush, the mountain trout, the raven and the magpie. Are their souls more or less than ours? Wrong question. Are their souls more like ours or more unlike? Don’t know. I just know that living things on the planet share the wonder of life, an independent spark. That spark gives us organic matter that moves and does so with intention.

Holy Well, Wales, St Dynfog

I’ve felt this way about the world for a long, long time. Taoism, Emerson, the Romantics, gardening, the Celtic Great Wheel. The mystical moment on the quad at Ball State. Oneness. With it all. I’m even willing to entertain faeries, elves, duendes, daiads, Gods and Goddesses. OK, I know I lost a lot of you with that one, but I’m going with my gut, my revelation to me rather than the dry dusty bones of theirs.

But. I want to push one step further. I believe in the spirits of the mountains. They have visited me here on Shadow Mountain, the mule deer on Samain, 2014, and the elk on my first day of radiation. The mule deer and the elk were angels, that is, messengers of the mountain gods, dispatched by the careful, slow, deliberate entities that are the Rocky Mountains.

I believe in the vitality of rushing water in Maxwell Creek, Cub Creek, Blue Creek, Bear Creek, the North Fork of the South Platte. I believe in the entity that is Lake Superior, that is the great deposit of ores on the Minnesota Iron Range, the ebb and flow of the Oglalla Aquifer.

I believe in Mother Earth, the great Gaia, a living system of ecosystems, biomes watered by rains and the snows, irrigated by streams and rivers, planted by Boreas and Zephryus, and given power to change by the true god, Sol.

Neither animals nor plants can grow without the sun’s energy or the food locked in minerals and vitamin: “Our soils support 95 percent of all food production, and by 2060, our soils will be asked to give us as much food as we have consumed in the last 500 years. They filter our water. They are one of our most cost-effective reservoirs for sequestering carbon. They are our foundation for biodiversity. And they are vibrantly alive, teeming with 10,000 pounds of biological life in every acre. Yet in the last 150 years, we’ve lost half of the basic building block that makes soil productive.” Living Soil film

As it appears, I am an animist, a pagan, a person who has found his spot in the great scheme. I’m a moving instance of matter formed in the great fusion furnaces of stars. I’m a temporary instance, holding together a few atoms for a human lifetime. I’m a significant instance of meaning created by the universe observing itself, throughout my short path, as the dynamic, interlocked, soulful reality that it is.

I need no human word to guide me. I need no idea, no rule. I am and I am within all this. The Arapaho National Forest. The Rocky Mountains. Our nuclear family. Our extended family. The community of folks at CBE. The United States. The Mind of God.

My soul and that of Kepler, Rigel, and Gertie dance with each other. In Andover Kate and I danced with bees, fruit trees, perennial flowers, vegetables, raspberry canes. Here we dance with the mountain spirits.

Long ago I set out on a spiritual journey that went down and in rather than up and out. That is, I would not find validation somewhere outside of myself whether Torah, Gospel, Constitution, or political ideology. I would not privilege the idea of transcendence, or a three-story universe. No god is in heaven, and yet all’s right with the world. My ancient spiritual trail has been to turn within for the source of my revelation. And, I have not turned back.

America the Beautiful

Summer and the Radiation Moon

So easy to get lost in the polluted haze of Trump’s venal presidency.
To have our heads down, shaking in disbelief. Wondering when this horror show will end.

So easy. Today though, on this day of tanks and flags, this day when we become like all the nations who try to show bellicosity as a symbol of national strength, I’m very aware it’s all happening far to the east.

Happy to sit high in the Rocky Mountains, far away from the beltway. I lift my head up and look out the window. Black Mountain is bathed in sunlight. So are the tops of the lodgepole pines in our front yard. The sky, a robin’s egg blue, makes all the green pop.

If I were to drive across the plains again, from here to the Twin Cities as I have done so often, I would cross green fields of wheat, of corn. The horizon would be once again flat instead of jagged. Reaching into Minnesota the plains slowly disappear, bumping up against the remnants of the big woods. It’s said that once a squirrel could go tree to tree from the Atlantic coast to Minnesota without ever touching the earth.

The Corn Palace, Mitchell, South Dakota

Near where the prairie begins to morph into another land form is Pipestone, Minnesota. A sacred place for many peoples native to this land. There the blood of mother earth has congealed into a soft, red stone, perfect for making the pipes used in so many rituals. If you go to the quarries, you can sometimes see folks working there, seeking blocks of pipestone. A very low tech procedure.

Driving on toward the Twin Cities, angling north and east, bean and corn fields begin to dominate. Cattle, pigs. Close to sea level and well east of John Wesley Powell’s demarcation line for the arid West, the 100th parallel (really now the 98th), Minnesota is in the humid east. Summer air is sticky, wet, and filled with bugs of various kinds.

In Minnesota the glaciers that bulldozed the plains left behind small depressions in the earth, over 16,000 of them. A journey north and east, turning due north some where beyond the middle of the state, will find a traveler in the North Woods, filled with lakes, and still more wild than civilized.

Burntside Lake, near Ely, Minnesota

It is up there, in the Arrowhead Region, where wolves retained their paw-hold on a U.S. presence. The Arrowhead’s eastern boundary is all shoreline, washed by the cold, deep waters of Lake Superior.

These are the parts of America the Beautiful that I know best. Minnesota and its northerness. The plains and their great level expanses, once filled with grass and buffalo. The Rocky Mountains which rise up from those same plains, suddenly, abruptly, far to the west of any silliness on the National Mall.

I will hold in my heart this day neither tanks, nor flags, nor bluster, but the rocky beaches of the Great Lakes, the farmland of southern Minnesota, the vast wheat fields of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, the upthrust mantle of Mother Earth’s crust where I now sit.

Camp Du Nord, Northern Minnesota

I’ve lived my life in these interior places of the North American continent, held for now under the politic rubric United States of America. They will still exist when this nation has faded into obscurity. And that makes me glad.

That Damned Tunnel

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Thought more about the tunnel I mentioned in the post below. For a long while, especially from February through mid-May or so, I thought the light at the end of the tunnel was the ironic oncoming train. Seemed like the tunnel had shrunken and passing through it was a unit train headed in our direction.

Once Kate began to gain weight, smile, the tunnel expanded a bit. A small path opened up that we could jump onto and wait out the train. When the cancer diagnosis went from psa to imaging studies, and the imaging studies showed no mets, the small path widened up enough for both of us to stand next to each other.

The exit from the tunnel is still far off. I’m estimating September, late September, as the time when we see if the track outside the tunnel runs through a pleasant valley or back into another mountainside.

When I did the Progoff workshop in May I thought mostly about the time since Kate’s bleed. On the way to radiation today I turned this over again and decided that the move to Colorado was the key moment. Since then four aspects of our new life came to dominate.

supervised trip, A-Basin, 2016

Family. Since we moved here on the Winter Solstice of 2014, Jon has gone through a bitter divorce, lived with us for a year and purchased his own home. The grandkids have gone from traumatized to tween and teenager. In 2016 we went to Korea for Joe and SeoAh’s wedding. Since then, SeoAh has become an important part of our family, too.

Colorado. We live in this remarkable state, close to many things people spend thousands of dollars to visit. We’ve seen few of them. The tunnel has contained us. Perhaps as we emerge from the tunnel, we’ll be able to plan trips. 5280, a magazine, has an insert this month, 10 classic Colorado road trips. A good place to start.

We live in the mountains among the lodgepole pines, aspens, craggy cliffs and fast flowing streams. Mule deer, elk, fox, bears, and mountain lions are our neighbors. Making our life here on Shadow Mountain has given us great joy, the beauty and the changing seasons

Kate at the CBE board’s oneg, Rosh Hashanah, 2018

Judaism. Congregation Beth Evergreen has been a refuge, a joy. The folks there have shown us what community means, what mitzvah means, that life together is better than life apart. Friends, intellectual sustenance, spiritual growth.

October 8, 2018

Healthspan. It was the diagnosis in 2015 that started it. Oh. Cancer? Really? Let’s get it out and move on. Tried to do that. Next up. Arthritic knee. Get a new, titanium one. Yes. Good choice. Kate needed a new right shoulder. Also a good choice. Sjogren’s began to eat into Kate’s well-being, dragging her weight down, causing fatigue, nausea. The bleed made it all more problematic for her. Second bleed. Pneumothorax. Each meant time in the hospital, starting in the E.R. at Swedish. Flu. Pneumonia. Me. Rising psa. Oh? Really? Later here we are in week 3 of the radiation. Hopeful for the near term future. How our lifespan has been affected? Probably shortened.

First day of radiation

It is my feeling that emergence from the tunnel will call on us to interact more fully with all of these four. I’m excited and ready.

Green

Summer Solstice and the Recovery Moon

This morning

Black Mountain has a wispy cloud draping over its peak, moving slowly toward the northwest. The greens this summer, with so much water, are intense, Hawaiian. The lodgepoles are a deep dark green, the aspen groves a yellow green spotlighted by the sun. The grasses are lush, the dandelions abundant, cheery dots of yellow.

The white cloud dances with the blue sky, revealing it now, obscuring it. It’s another cool morning, 43. Perfect for sleep. The mountain streams continue to flow fast, white where they hit the rocks, still not full with the snow melt proceeding slowly. On the way to CBE yesterday Kate saw a cardboard sign, hand lettered, Slow: Fawns.

And, snow is in the forecast for this weekend. Yes, on the day of the summer solstice, weather5280 predicts snow that might hit us. Snow. The fire hazard signs are still on low, have been since March. Never this far into the summer. I’m grateful for the wet, for the dampening of wildfire probabilities. One less thing.

Patsy Cline

Day 5, fraction 5, of the 7000 cGy prescription. After today’s isotopic rain, only 30 to go. The weekends are off. Time for the body to rest, they say, though I imagine not running a seven day a week practice has something to do with it, too. Pandora so far: The Band, Baroque, Coltrane, Patsy Cline. Haven’t decided about today. Maybe Izzy.

No side effects so far. Early days for both the radiation and the Lupron. Feels like I have a job. Get in the car at a certain time each day, navigate four lane highways to Lone Tree. Same exit, same turns. Same office. But in this case I don’t have a job, I am the job.

The Beano seems to work, suppressing the gas which screws up the Cyber Knife’s navigation of the volume created by Dr. Gilroy. The Miralax helps as well. The calcium/d3 pills are horse pills, almost as long as a finger joint.

Mussar Vaad Practice group, MVP, last night. Rich Levine led a wonderful session on simplicity. Kate and I went for the second time in a row. Still wears us out. Finished at 9:30 pm, way past both our bed times. Here’s an interesting statistic, of the 10 of us in the MVP group, two of us have active cancer right now and one is in remission from breast cancer. 30%.

The Mountains Called Me

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

After I wrote about the one-antlered elk, another buck jumped our fence. He had two antlers, both velveted, as you can see. These two large animals are the Rocky Mountain subspecies of Cervus elaphus, one of six in the U.S., and the subspecies with the largest racks. In the 700 pound range. They’re big.

These guys stayed all night, lying down from time to time, then getting up to continue snacking on grass, dandelions, our backyard aspen, a Colorado Blue Spruce. When I woke up yesterday morning, they were dining right outside our bedroom window.

The dogs have to go out in the morning and when they did, they chased the elk to the corner of our property. One-antlered guy jumped the fence while I watched. He walked over to it and jumped. Right over. Our fence is five feet high. Dr. Gilroy, who’s from Wyoming, said to keep elk out there, they have to put ten foot fences. I believe it after seeing this one clear ours with grace and ease.

The two-antlered buck stayed a while, but he eventually left, too.

Another instance of synchronicity. I mentioned the three mule deer bucks I saw on Samhain when I came for the closing on our property in 2014. In the intervening four and a half years we’ve had neither mule deer nor elk in the back, fenced in portion of our property. In the front, yes, but not in the back.

We say this to prostate cancer

These two spirits of the mountain came the day I started my radiation treatment. And they stayed the night. No wonder our ancient ancestors painted these creatures in soot and ochre on cave walls. No wonder cultures around the world find spirit animals to guide them. When big animals show up in your life voluntarily, your life shifts. You have to consider their presence.

Some have said that Colorado has not been kind to us. I get it, too. Prostate cancer diagnosed four months after we got here. A new knee. Jon’s divorce. Kate’s shoulder, Sjogren’s, bleed, lung disease. All since we got here.

It’s not Colorado though. AA has a saying, wherever you go, there you are. This comes from the notion of the geographic escape. If I just leave this town where all my trouble started, I’ll start over fresh. Nope. Wherever you go, there you, the alcoholic, are.

We brought aging with us. My PSA was 4.0 the last physical I had in Minnesota. I’m 72, Kate’s 75 this August. Stuff begins to catch up with us at these ages. Genetics plays a large role as do dietary choices, exercise. Even with those all good, it’s still: eat right, exercise, die anyway. Not blaming Colorado. The contrary.

I have what I consider solid evidence that we not only belong here, but that we are welcome. Congregation Beth Evergreen. The frequent visits with Jon and the grandkids. The everchanging, but always wonderful beauty of the mountains.

And, for me, the grace note of these animals. Yes, Charlie, we know this is a difficult time. We know too that you are, like us, an animal. You can worry and fret or you can stop, eat the dandelions, the grass. Lie down among the lodgepole pines and the aspen. Jump the fence into another world. You did just that when you and Kate moved to Shadow Mountain and we’re glad you came. Amen. Blessed be.

Illness and Legacy

Beltane                                                                           Cancer Moon

Saguaro National Park, edited

Saguaro National Park, 2014

Struggled a bit with naming the moon for this new month. Didn’t want to put up my first idea. It seemed, dark. Yet when I went to other ideas, nothing came. Usually the new moon’s name comes easily. It’s a fun way to emphasize an important aspect of the upcoming lunar month. This time though. Not fun. I try to think of something that might dominate the next 30 days or an important (to us or the mountains) event. Recovery Moon. Rushing Waters. Valentine. So. Cancer.

But. Ewww. Debbie Downer. Even so. Axumin scan. Meeting with Dr. Gilroy, a radiation oncologist. Most probably treatment. In my world cancer will dominate. So. Cancer.

Jon, Ruth, and Gabe came up last night. Ruth brought a wonderful loaf of challah she’d made. Tasted like Irish soda bread. The braids were clear. I brought up the silver platter I bought for Kate a long time ago. A set, with a serrated knife. For the sabbath meal. I had my pastrami on chunks of challah. They’d stopped at the New York Deli on their way up, buying matzo ball soup as well as stuff for supper and eating it on the way.

Ruth and Gabe laugh easily now, tease each other. As happy now as they were angry and sullen a couple of years ago. Jon’s doing something right as a parent and it’s a pleasure to see. He’s been out of school for a week or so now. The Aurora school district chose Montview to renovate this year. His art room will have a patio and windows. His old room had no windows. Hard to imagine for an art classroom, eh?

The Great Kiva, Chaco Canyon

The Great Kiva, Chaco Canyon

The move. In 2014 my last Progoff workshop stirred something in me, made me realize if Kate and I were going to make a change in our lives right then was the time to do it. We were both still in good health. We had enough money. Kate had retired.

On the way up here from Tucson I saw the Mogollon Rim, Ship Rock, and stopped at Chaco Canyon. The Mogollon Rim is the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau, the massive geological feature that underlies parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado west of the Rockies with its center roughly at the Four Corners. Ship Rock, if you’ve read any Tony Hillerman mysteries already familiar to you, has a sacred role in Diné culture. Chaco Canyon was the Vatican of the Anasazi, direct ancestors of the Pueblo people. As I drove the Mogollon Rim in the early hours of March 28th, 2014, the full moon rose.

Ruth, March 29, 2014

Ruth, March 29, 2014

Ruth, April 5, 2019

Ruth, April 5, 2019

I could feel, and wrote it about even then, a Colorado self forming. That same Colorado self that I chose to dress last summer. The one with the plaid flannel shirts and jeans. Unexpectedly a lot like my Minnesota self. Yet not. This is a self not with its roots in Lake Superior, North Woods country, but in the Colorado Plateau, in the Rocky Mountains, in the ancient history of human settlement here. And that Colorado self, forming as I drove, wanted that. More than I knew at the time.

I left the Colorado Plateau and drove north to Denver.

Jen wanted to surprise Ruth. Her 8th birthday was only days away when I got to Denver. This from a post on March 29th, “When I knocked on the door, Ruth, the birthday girl who did not know I was coming, fluttered her hands and got a shy look.  Taken aback and surprised.  Then, glad to see me.” In retrospect I think it was in that moment I took an internal turn away from my home of 40 years and turned to face the Rockies.

 

At a Journal Workshop

Beltane                                                                      Rushing Waters Moon

My Intensive Journal from 2014

My Intensive Journal from 2014

This Sunday I start my fourth Intensive Journal Workshop. It runs each day through Friday, the 10th. The whole rising psa, get in the oncological spirit matter has come up since I decided to attend. Makes the whole process even more important. What’s life like for me post the move to Colorado? What’s the next few years’ focus?

No question that health matters have had pride of place almost from the time we got here. My prostate cancer diagnosis came in April and May of 2015, only months after we moved into our house. Kate’s multiple issues, Sjogren’s, the bleed, food aversion and weight loss, anemia, and lung disease have dominated for almost 18 months. We both had joint replacements, my knee, her shoulder.

20190501_090802Having said that, they don’t compare to the importance of having been here for Jon and the kids during that messy divorce and its aftermath. Which continues. Nor do they compare in importance to finding Congregation Beth Evergreen. Or, the constant wonder and awe of living in the Rocky Mountains. Or, the creation of a new family with Joe and SeoAh’s marriage.

How have all these things changed me? What do they suggest for things that need emphasis, and things that need to go in the compost heap of my life? An introvert’s delight, the journal workshop. It’s my birthday present, maybe the best one ever. Thanks, Kate.

The Velveteen Rabbit aspect of human identity

Spring                                                                            Recovery Moon

Bat and Moon, 1930s Takahashi Bihō. MIA

Bat and Moon, 1930s
Takahashi Bihō. MIA

The Recovery moon illuminates Black Mountain this morning. The ski runs carved out on the mountain are white strips reflecting back moon shine. A light breeze moves the lodgepoles and a thin dusting of snow covers the solar panels. Early spring in the Rockies.

Kate made a salad last night. We bumped into each other in our galley kitchen for the first time in months. She also tossed her friendship quilt from the Bailey Patchworkers into the washing machine. She’s beginning to emerge from a long time in the chrysalis of illness. Wow.

Since the recovery moon seems to find us both on the uptick, my doctor’s nurse called with lab results, actually a second call due to confusion there occasioned by a weeks long problem with their computer systems. The first call came when I was still pretty sick and I didn’t pay close attention. This time I did. My PSA has moved up from .o1 to .012. Doesn’t seem like much, but when your prostate’s gone, it’s supposed to stay at .1, which is effectively .0. A recurrence is defined, for those of us who had our prostate’s removed, when the PSA hits .2. Concerning, but not yet a problem. Further testing required.

Rabbi Jamie called last night, wondering how we were. We were both steady and frequent attenders of things at CBE up until Kate’s bleed on September 28th. I continued until my own illness which began in early February. Since then, I’ve only been back for the chicken soup cook-off. Our sudden disappearance from the synagogue’s life caused him to say last time he talked with Kate that the schul isn’t the same without us. Kate was on the board and I was teaching religious school. We both attended mussar on Thursdays. We went to services less frequently, but showed up at education and special events, too. We’ve woven ourselves into the fabric that is CBE.

Chapter House from Notre-Dame-de-Pontaut,12th century French MMA

Chapter House from Notre-Dame-de-Pontaut,12th century French MMA

Community, like friendships, is reciprocal. You put your left foot in, then your right foot, then you shake it all about. With others doing the same thing. Over time we get to know each other, see each other, acknowledge each other. The line between thee and me is both more and less than we usually think. It’s more in that we don’t know our own selves well, our own depths eluding even the most introspective and life examining of us. How could others see into that, then? It’s less in that our perception of ourselves is constantly poked and prodded by interactions with others. In fact, much of our personhood gains definition as we sit down to coffee with someone, engage in critical thought, listen to music, sing with them. In community, in friendships, in family we become who we are.

At CBE, as with the Woolly’s, the docents, the political folks I’ve worked with, and our family, who I am has been in dialectical tension with both individuals and the collective. I’ve had to consider how Frank Broderick’s anti-Catholicism fits into my mostly positive assessment of religious life. I’ve offered ideas at CBE and had them put into action, changing myself and others in the process. As I got to know my fellow docents, I observed how they related to the art, to the art history we learned, to the museum visitors we guided on tours. And, how I was as a docent shaped itself in response.

Woolly Mammoths instructed in glass blowing

Woolly Mammoths instructed in glass blowing

In the instance of the Presbyterian ministry the two millennia plus history of Christianity was a body of thought and actions within which I had to find my particular place just like the thousands of year old history of art demanded I find a personal patch of ground on which to stand in relation to it. Both interactions shaped me and I, in turn, in small, individual ways reshaped both Christianity and the history of art. Not making a big, hubristic claim here, just observing that the dialectical tension affects both parties though not in equal ways.

This is, I suppose, the Velveteen Rabbit part of human identity formation. We rub ourselves up against people, animals, things and in the process we become real. And, we serve that same role for others. It’s an awesome responsibility. How do I, in my interactions, encourage the best in others? Or, do I? But that’s a question for another day.

Tajikistani Comfort

Winter                                                                Waxing Moon

20190118_104419Quick geopolitical quiz. Where is Tajikistan? No googling, no globe, no world map. Where is it? If you know, you get the sister city of Boulder appellation, Friend of Dushanbe. Friend of what? Oh, you didn’t know that Dushanbe is the capital of Tajikistan? No, we’re not revoking your nametag. Not only are we not revoking your nametag, we’re inviting you over to tea at a traditional Tajikistan Tea House donated to Boulder by the citizens of Dushanbe. And, it’s a stunner.

The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse was fabricated in Tajikistan and then reassembled in Boulder, much like the Teahouse exhibited in the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Japanese galleries. The result puts you in another place. The intricate, colorful glazed tiles and the carefully hand carved wooden pillars lit by floor to ceiling windows makes the dining room seem both familiar and exotic, intimate, yet expansive. 20190118_123043Though we didn’t sit on one of them, there were also raised platforms with cushions and short tables. Looked like fun to me.

The menu has an assortment of dishes ranging from Lapsang Souchong Bulgogi to a Russian Beet Salad. We spent a leisurely hour and a half eating hummus, samosas, and the Russian Beet Salad. The deserts were wonderful, too.

I picked up an ounce of white tea, Silver Needle. My disappointment with the physics of boiling water at 8,800 feet sorta knocked me out of the tea making habit I’d developed in Andover. The Teahouse inspired me to suck it up and get back to it. Starting today, I plan to add tea-making back into my daily routine.

Fellow Travelers

Fellow Travelers

While we ate a gentle snow fell, visible through the large windows. Could have been a morning in Dushanbe. After our meal, we drove over to McGuckin’s. It’s a hardware store, but so much more. First, it’s the size of a big box retailer. It’s aisles have that distinctive hardware shelving and signage, but they include furniture, fly fishing equipment, art supplies, humidifiers, a dizzying range of power tools, garden tools. The atmosphere was laid back, many folks meandering around, like us, taking in its immensity. I found a large brush to paint backgrounds and some tape to use for outlining. A few sponges, too.

Dark Lane, Southowram, England

Dark Lane, Southowram, England

The drive back home, about an hour in normal conditions, took almost two. Tom did his usual masterful, calm job as helmsman. Unfortunately the timing meant that he and Mark dropped me off, then headed back down the mountain to make their 7:00 pm flight. DIA is far from our house and you have to traverse the whole of the Denver metro to get there. Not a fun drive.

Ram Dass sums it up: We’re all just walking each other home. Tom and Mark came out and we hiked another few miles toward that final destination, the most ancientrail of all. The precious value of knowing we’re not walking alone turns us into fellow pilgrims. Life without travel companions is a burden; with fellow pilgrims it’s a rich, exciting journey toward the unknown.

 

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.