We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Who is God’s Rothko?

Fall                                                                     Harvest Moon

Been thinking about a new analogy for reimagining/reconstructing faith: the transition from representational to abstract art. I like the analogy because it reaches deep into prehistory to the cave art of Lascaux and Chauvet of 40,000 years ago. This tradition developed so powerfully that its underlying assumptions were simply not questioned.  What would art be about but the reproduction of the human world in two-dimensions? Then, in 3, but still a man, or a god, or an animal. The introduction of perspective reinforced the representational, but did, I imagine, to the sensitive eye, give an inkling of the manipulation of space and color that really underlay art making.

No. 118 1961 by Mark Rothko

No. 118 1961 by Mark Rothko

So called modern art was a radical break with this tradition. It happened as artists in many places looked at painting and sculpture with fresh eyes. They asked about the purpose of art, the purpose of paint on canvas, the purpose of reshaping wood and stone. What are the primary elements of the work? Color. Paint. Form. Space. Negative space. And perspective, did it have to be mathematical? Was there a perspective that developed simply through the use of color? (Cezanne) Did perspective have to be singular? (Picasso) Could a painting be nothing but color? (Morris Louis, Rothko, Kandinsky) What about painting or sculpting things that could not exist? (Man Ray, Dali, DuChamp)

mao trach dong

mao trach dong

As artists began to consider the fundamentals, the unexamined assumptions of making art that had shaped its global expression since humans began making marks, though, that other tradition, the old representational one, did not die out. There were still portraits, still landscapes, still still lifes, sculpted men and women and animals and mythical beings of all sorts. This reimagining, reconstructing of art itself seemed to displace the older way, but only because museums became so dominant. There were modern art museums like the Walker and the Guggenheim and the Modern and the Tate which seemed to position the older, encyclopedic museums like the MIA, the Metropolitan, the Kunsthistorisches, the Louvre as showplaces of what used to be. Even the development of ateliers, who imagine themselves as the heirs to the older tradition, seemed to be an admission that the reimaginers had swept the field.

danceSo what I’m proposing is not another religion with a different origin story, a different set of scriptures, different roots from, say, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam. And what I’m definitely not proposing is a reductionistic attempt to find out what all religions have in common, nor am I proposing a sort of tolerance for all faiths, an attempt to learn from each of them (though this is a good thing to do) and out of that shape a new faith.

No, I want to play with the fundamentals of religion, those things that underlay the tradition of religious thought and practice. I say play advisedly because I think it was the playful aspect of the artists who questioned their tradition that made their work bearable. And, in making it bearable, made it accessible enough to thrive.

Criteria by Bruce LeeSo, what are some of those fundamentals? Prayer, worship, gods, ritual, art, revelation, congregations, sacred space, the notion of sacred, divinity, after life, morality and ethics. How might a radical approach take the long history of prayer, for example, and reshape it, reconfigure it, reuse it for the person who chooses to stand outside particular traditions, but still wants to paint? Or, what about gods? How does the notion of powerful, unseen entities with various agendas fit into the life of persons no longer monotheists, no longer willing or able to see many gods?

I don’t even want to do what Emerson proposed. That is, have a religion of revelation to us rather than the dry bones of theirs. I want to examine revelation itself. What is revealed? Why is hiddenness so important to religion? What is revelation in a quantum mechanical world? Where is revelation? How are things revealed? How have things been revealed all along, but we didn’t notice? And why do we care about a world beyond the one we experience effortlessly?

 

 

Awesome

Lughnasa                                                                                       Eclipse Moon

OzymandiasThe last night of the Eclipse Moon, a disastrous month for North America from the eclipse to its waning moment. The wildfires are still burning in the West from the state of Washington to California, in Oregon and Montana and Idaho. Harvey and Irma related disaster cleanup has only begun. The same in southern Mexico for the victims of the 8.1 earthquake. Jose is still pounding around in the Atlantic and Maria, now a category 5, has just shattered Dominica, Guadeloupe, and is headed for Martinique and Puerto Rico. It’s not the apocalypse, no, but for those whose homes and forests are on fire, under water, battered by wind or destroyed by the movement of the earth, it may as well be.

Awe is not confined to the benign, the amazing and wonderful. Each of these disasters, both in their gestalt and in their particulars, and as a collection of events, is awesome. They show the limits of human preparation, of human intervention. We are not, even with our nuclear weapons and our space station and our icebreakers, more than bystanders when these acts of earth strike us. We even have a name for them, force majeure, enshrined in insurance policies.

Nations and civilizations rise and fall, but earth, air, fire and water continue in their eternal way, or, at least as long as the earth herself lasts, to do what they want, when they want, where they want.

We are, in the end, Ozymandias, look on our works, ye Mighty, and despair.

Working

Lughnasa                                                                         Kate’s Moon

hell2Moving forward, slowly, with Jennie’s Dead. Exploring the religion of the ancient Egyptians, trying to avoid hackneyed themes, not easy with all the mummy movies, Scorpion King, Raiders of the Lost Ark sort of cinema. Jennie’s Dead is not about Egypt, ancient or otherwise, but it plays an important role in the plot. Getting started is difficult, trying to sort out where the story wants to go, whether the main conflict is clear, to me and to the eventual reader.

Also moving forward, also slowly, with Reimagining. The pile of printed out posts has shrunk considerably, now filed. As I’ve gone through them, I read them a bit, for filing purposes. One notion that jumped out at me was my turn away from text-based religions, from the sort of quasi-scholastic reasoning that occurs.

image of godAs Emerson said, “Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?”

I guess Emerson and I had the same quandary. We love the ancient texts, their poetry and philosophy, yet do not want to be bound by them. We want our poetry and revelation straight from the source, nature and the human experience of our own time. Yet, it seems to me, we’re both informed in our search for the poetry of existence by the way those seekers of the past found revelation in their time. Surely the logic of wanting our own revelation grounds itself in the stories of Genesis, the work of Moses, the resurrection story of Jesus, even the night flight of Muhammad and the whirling cosmic dance of Shiva.

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryThis means I’m in a curious position relevant to my own education in the Christian tradition and my new education, underway now, in the older faith tradition of Judaism. Both are normative, in their way, but not as holy writ. Rather, they are normative in a more fundamental sense, they reveal the way we humans can discover the sacred as it wends and winds its way not only through the universe, but through history.

We may not, in other words, be bound by their philosophy and insight, the history of their revelation, yet how the ancients made themselves open to the whispers and shouts of the sacred, how they received its insights and what use they made of it in their lives, those shape us because we are the same vessel, only thrown into a different time.

Arthur_Szyk_(1894-1951)._The_Holiday_Series,_Rosh_Hashanah_(1948),_New_Canaan,_CTThis is a similar idea to that of the reconstructionists, but not the same. Reconstructionists want to work with a constantly evolving Jewish civilization, grounding themselves in Torah, mussar, kabbalah, shabbat, the old holidays, but emphasizing the work of building a Jewish culture in the current day, reconstructing it as Jews change and the world around them changes, too. I’m learning so much from this radical idea.

2695406589_2517d8b0f2What I want to do though, and it’s a similar challenge, is to reimagine, for our time and as a dynamic, the way we reach for the sacred, the way we write about our experience, the way we celebrate the insights and the poetry it inspires. In this Reconstructionist Judaism is a better home for me than Unitarian Universalism. UU’s may have the same goal, but their net is cast into the vague sea of the past, trying to catch a bit from here and a bit from there. It is untethered, floating with no anchor. Beth Evergreen affirms the past, the texts of their ancestors, their thousands of years of interpretation, the holidays and the personal, daily life of a person shaped by this tradition, but also recognizes the need to live those insights in an evolving world.

 

American Values

Lughnasa                                                                         Kate’s Moon

Indiana_Klan_percentageThe alt-right and Charlottesville, Virginia. Many said this violence doesn’t represent American values. Horsepuckey, as we used to say.

In Alexandria, Indiana, my hometown, we had full-sheeted KKK folk handing out membership applications near the Curve pizza place. In my era the John Birch society was big, its Get US out of the UN billboards in highly visible evidence. There were also the Minutemen, an early militia movement.

Just north of Alexandria about 20 miles is Marion, Indiana where my father worked for several years. A notorious lynching occurred there in 1930. Strangely, years later in St. Paul, Minnesota I made friends with Clarence Davis whose ancestor was one of those lynched.

I can extend this circle of hate to Elwood, Indiana, 7 miles to the west, which had, in my memory, signs that read, No Niggers In Town After Sundown, taken down only after the 1964 civil rights act.

What’s really unnerving is that this was a microcosm, I know these things because I grew up in this general area. Take other 20 mile diameter circles and lay them down over the rest of Indiana, of Illinois, of Iowa, certainly of the south. You could find similar histories, each with their own marks of this violent and oh so American overbelly.

 

 

Fire and Fury. Big, big trouble.

Lughnasa                                                                               Kate’s Moon

My family’s Asian pivot began decades ago when Mary went to an Indiana University campus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She’s still in Asia, though now for a long time in Singapore, thirty years or so later. Brother Mark began teaching English as a second language and worked in Taiwan, then in Thailand and Cambodia. He was in Southeast Asia over twenty years and still considers Bangkok his refuge, if not his home. In 1981 Raeone and I welcomed a four-pound, four-ounce baby boy into our home from Calcutta, India. That boy turns 36 this fall. In 2016, after a year long deployment in Korea, Joseph married SeoAh, a native born Korean he met in a coffee shop in Seoul.

SeoAh’s family lives in the south of Korea near Gwangju. Better, I thought, than being in Seoul under the current circumstances, but Joseph says no. He knows far better than I do. This means that all the saber rattling going on between two tyrants with low impulse control is personal. We have family literally in the way of any outbreak of violence.

 

 

 

Hello, darkness

Lughnasa                                                        Kate’s Moon

monolith (1)Dark ecology. I’ll post more about this both here and on AncientrailsGreatwheel.com, but it interests me a lot right now. It’s a contrarian view of the climate crisis, but not in a denier vein. These are folks who accept climate science, but take a pessimists look at the likelihood of change, at least change sufficient to stave off disaster. They don’t see it happening. This could be equated to the final stage of the grief process, acceptance.

monolithI’m not familiar enough now with the movement to comment in depth, but the tone of it strikes a chord in me. Admittedly, it’s a melancholy chord though the more you know about both climate science and the current political will to tackle change, the more that chord may come to dominate the melody of your life. It’s either brave, facing reality in spite of its horror, or defeatist. Maybe it’s both.

Whichever it is, it feels like an important approach to climate change at an emotional level and one I want to better understand. If you want a sense of dark ecology’s direction, take a look at this manifesto on the Dark Mountain website.

Dogged, Sirius

Midsommar                                                                     Most Heat Moon

 Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello. Revelation 20:15: "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."

Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello. Revelation 20:15: “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

The dog days. Maybe not yet as hot as this mosaic portrays, certainly not here on Shadow Mountain, though Tucson and Phoenix… Friend Tom Crane sent me a link to this Updraft post about the dog days. I miss having an erudite blog like Updraft keeping me alert about weather. Weather5280 is the closest I’ve found. It’s good on weather, but it doesn’t go off into sidebars like explaining the days after the heliacal rising of Sirius. Heliacal? What’s that you might ask? Turns out heliacal is the first appearance of a star after a long absence. The dog days begin with the return of the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius. Or, at least they used to.

The Romans believed that the dog days were so hot that they made dog’s rabid. Sirius is the major star in the constellation, Canis Major, the Great Dog, but the Romans didn’t originate linking the rising of Sirius with heat. That belongs to the Greeks. They named the star “Seirios, Greek for “sparking” (referring to its near-constant twinkling), “fiery,” or “scorching,”” According to this page on Sky and Telescope, the Greeks believed its -1.46 magnitude intensified the already hot days of a Mediterranean summer.

Neither the Greeks nor the Romans, however, were the first ancient civilization to highlight the dog star. The Egyptians began the New Year when Sirius returned to the night sky because it corresponded with the flooding of the Nile, a seasonal nourishing of the fields that made Egyptian civilization flourish. Their calendar though, because it lacked the leap year, gradually moved the month of the new year further and further from Sirius’s heliacal rise.

This lead to a discovery of the Sothic year, 1461 years of ancient Egypt’s 365 day year or 1460 of the Julian sidereal year which adds leap years. A Sothic year follows the gradual movement of the New Year until it once again occurs when the Nile floods, synching up with Sirius’s heliacal moment.

sirius

In spite of my long established affection for Orion, or perhaps because of it, I’ve never focused on Sirius. That’s a bit surprising since Canis Major is Orion’s hunting dog and Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky. I’ll be looking for it as rises this year here on Shadow Mountain, probably August 10th.

sirius22

When I see it, I’ll think of this from the Sky and Telescope article because it reflects my own wistfulness for a reenchanted world:

“While the first sighting of Sirius may not signify anything as momentous as the annual flooding of the Nile, seeing it tenderly twinkling at dawn can take us back in time to when it was commonplace for people to use stars to mark important events in their lives. How far we’ve strayed.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Krishna Janma

Midsommar                                                                   Most Heat Moon

Krishnas-birth-in-prisonLooking for light in prison. An assignment for the kabbalah class tonight. Rabbi Jamie suggested watching a movie like Hurricane, about Rubin Carter. I thought of MLK and Letters from the Birmingham Jail and Nelson Mandela, too. Then I remembered a portion of the Mahabharata I’d watched. This DVD version, 94 episodes, aired in India in the late 1980’s. Bought it to watch while doing long sessions on the treadmill.

Krishna Janma was episode 11. A prophecy tells Kansa, a king, that his sister Devaki’s eighth son will kill him. At first he looks for the easiest solution. Kill Devaki. Vasudeva, her husband, pleads with Kansa not to kill his sister. “I will bring you each child to destroy.”

Kansa considers this and agrees with a condition. They have to live in chains in his dungeon. Six sons are born. Kansa comes in their cell after each birth, grabs the newborn and throws it against the wall. When the seventh son is born, a friend of Devaki’s visits her in the cell and takes her pregnancy as her own. This causes Kansa great consternation but he can’t do anything since the seventh pregnancy seems to have mysteriously ended.

krishnaFinally, nine years later, Devaki is pregnant again, this time with the eighth son Kansa dreaded. This son is Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu.

“Whenever righteousness wanes and unrighteousness increases I send myself forth.
For the protection of the good and for the destruction of evil,
and for the establishment of righteousness,
I come into being age after age.”

— Bhagavad Gita 4.7–8

Happy-Janmashtami-Images-Wishes-Quotes-SMS-Status-Greetings-09

When Devaki gives birth to Krishna, a light shines in the cell and a voice, presumably Vishnu, tells Vasudeva to take baby Krishna out of the dungeon to another couple. Vasudeva wonders how he can accomplish this but the dungeon’s many barred doors swing open, the guards are put asleep and he walks out into a raging storm with his eighth son held over his head.

Krishna Janmashtami is a Hindu holiday that celebrates Krishna’s birth. It’s a lunar holiday so the date changes from year to year, but this year Janmashtami is on August 14th.

As the World Burns

Beltane                                                                  Moon of the Summer Solstice

images (2)While the world burns, at least the Trump world, kabbalah suggests a bigger world, more worlds, right next to this one. There is, as Rabbi Jamie said, a bigger picture. I learned a similar lesson from Deer Creek Canyon during my cancer season two years ago. These Rocky Mountains, still toddlers as mountains go, were and will be present when we are not. In their lifetime humanity will likely have come and gone.

It’s tempting to use this perspective-and I believe it’s real, I want to emphasize that-to diminish the swirl of issues like climate change, decent health insurance, jobs that no longer pay a living wage. In time they will be finished, one way or another. We were neither present during the Rockies orogeny, nor will we be present when they become as smooth as the Appalachians. Just so, you may say.

38d9f3b4e2e64361ce68ca237f270a42Yet. We do not live either in the deep geological past nor in the distant geological future, we live now. Our lives, our mayfly lives from the vantage point of geological time, come into existence and blink out, so we necessarily look at the moment, the brief seventy to one hundred year moment into which, as Heidegger said, we are thrown.

This is all we know of life, this moment. In it our whole awareness comes into existence, matures, then winks out. From that mayfly perspective then climate change, decent health insurance and a living wage are not insignificant. Albert Camus spoke of the great river which carries us toward the ocean of all souls. Ram Dass reminds us we’re all just walking each other home. And Lord Keynes famously said in the long run we’ll all be dead.

Time_Clock-620x587Somehow we have to realize that though our lives are small compared to the immensity of the universe and the imponderable nature of time, they are everything while we have them. As for me, I find all this comforting. Putting my efforts in the larger perspective gives me peace, putting them in the immediacy of my life gives me energy. We will not complete the task, no, we will not. But we are not free to give it up either.

 

 

Base Instincts

Beltane                                                                          Moon of the Summer Solstice

2000_Year_Temperature_ComparisonI wish I thought it was cynicism, the gratuitous act of a calculating politician, this latest, perhaps species’ ending decision. “I’m deciding for the citizens of Pittsburgh, not the citizens of Paris.” I wish I didn’t think it was a faulty mind at work, but I do. By faulty in this case I mean stupid. Trump may not be I.Q. stupid, though I don’t imagine he’s top of the class, but he’s unlearned, uninquisitive and lacks critical thinking skills. This is the functional equivalent of stupidity.

He seems to have base instincts (a political pun, intended) which he marries to advice from people who have ideological blinders he doesn’t understand. He clearly loves being the decider so he takes in certain streams of information, then chooses what he believes will Make America Great. What will put America First. In this case, as in so many others, he doesn’t seem to understand that the U.S.A. is no longer, if it ever was, separate from the world as a whole.

GOP-Oil-Above-AllClimate change does not care about boundaries. It does not care if you’re a resident of Paris, Pittsburgh, Timbuktu or Katmandu. The rain, as the proverb goes, falls on the just and the unjust. So with a ratcheting up of the earth’s temperature. Trump thinks he’s putting Pittsburgh ahead of Paris when what he’s really doing is pitting this generation against the next, saying that this one deserves more attention than the next. There is no hint, none at all, of seven generations thinking in his choices. Today is all that matters. Right here in the U.S.A. is all that matters. Right here in the U.S.A. all that matters is the effect on my base. (which he badly misreads, by the way)

He sees the fate of the white working class and the fate of America’s energy corporations tied together, a grim marriage and one doomed to fail and in its failure to scour humanity from the planet. So much for a sustainable future.

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