We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

First Draft Presentation

Written By: Charles - Mar• 09•20

Imbolc and the Leap Year Moon

                                Shadow Mountain Midrash

We need to reshape our religious languages in such a way that they will inspire the great collective act of teshuvah, “return” or “repentance,” required of us at this moment.” Radical Judaism, Art Green, p. 8

Green’s book is honest and radical, character traits I admire. His rejection of supernatural theology stated baldly and often, makes this a radical work. His commitment to remain, however, within the Jewish condition makes it honest. He is what he is. Perhaps the most radical claim in the book is this, “As a religious person I believe that the evolution of the species is the greatest sacred drama of all time.”[i]

I want to make two moves that are different from Green. First, I want to push the scope of his sacred drama all the way back to whatever is the beginning, bereshit. The Big Bang. Or, its equivalent as science and kabbalah press further into its truth. I believe that evolution of the cosmos is the greatest sacred drama of all time. Second, I no longer have a pathway home, back to the tradition of my childhood, or my professional ministry. I cannot follow him into a tradition.

That means I’m left with my Celtic inflected paganism.[ii]

I’m using the word in its sense of outside religious institutions, or religious outsider. A Latin word for rustic, villager, or peasant pagan got its current connotations in relation to the accelerating reach of the Roman Catholic church. As the church took hold in Europe north of Italy, it had to push out the then existing folk religions to gain converts.

This effort was effective in cities and towns where churches and priests could divide the area up into smaller, easily manageable parishes. In the countryside, however, where the peasants and other rural folk lived scattered from each other, where rural agricultural traditions still held sway, the old religions tended to hang on, resist assimilation. The Roman Catholics were relentless, however, and eventually most traditional religions found themselves sequestered among stubborn believers who often had to hide the practice of their beliefs. The old religions held on among villagers and peasants, pagans in the Latin usage.

Paganism then, as I use it, is a placeholder for those of us who share with Green his notion of the sacred as “an inward, mysterious sense of awesome presence, a reality deeper than we normally experience.”[iii], but do not share his devotion to tradition. Instead of panentheism, then, I’m neologizing: panenpneuma.  Spirit in all and all in spirit.

There is a love of wild Nature in everybody, an ancient mother-love ever showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties.” ― John Muir

Could there be a pagan midrash? A friend of mine often quotes a mentor, “See what you’re looking at.”[iv] A good beginning for a midrash of the natural world.[v]

Is this even a sensible question to ask? I think so, since Green himself says: “We thus make the same claim for Torah that we make for the natural world itself: remove the veil of surface impressions, go deeper, and you will find there something profound and holy.” Green, p. 116 If we look beyond the veil of surface impressions, go deeper, we’ll find the profound and holy. How to do this in the natural world? Midrashim of the Torah rely on repeated words, etymological similarities and differences, gaps in the flow of a text, gematria, the meanings of individual Hebrew letters.

The naïve viewer of nature might, instead, see the wonderful cumulus clouds over Black Mountain and think, they’re so high, so far away that they don’t have any connection to me at all. She might, though, wait and watch. When the rains begin, she might wonder. Hmm. They water the forest, don’t they?

Consider the bumblebee and the butterfly. The bumblebee, according to aerodynamic theory, shouldn’t be able to fly. So, which is right, aerodynamic theory or the bumblebee? Later information has sorted out the problem. Turns out bumblebees don’t flap their wings up and down, but back and forth. This was learned in 2005 when high-tech cameras and robotic bee model investigated the question. See what you’re looking at.

What if you were a child like me, who watched caterpillars intently? I followed them as they munched on leaves, as they put themselves in splendid isolation, as that isolation got broken by a creature as light as the caterpillar was stolid. And, it could fly!

The lodgepole pines on my property have a clever snow removal trick. When the snow gets too heavy on a branch, the branch dips down, the snow falls away.

Those are all scientific observations in one way or another, but they meet Green’s criteria, at least to me, of revealing the profound and the holy.

Here’s another midrashic method for nature. When we bought our house on Shadow Mountain, I came here from Minnesota for the closing. It was Samain, Summer’s End, the Celtic New Year. October 31st. I mention that because at Samain the veil between the worlds thins and creatures can pass both ways, out of the Other World to our world and out of this world to the Other World.

The next morning, on the rocky soil behind our new house, there were three mule deer bucks standing on what I now know is our leech field. I looked at them. They looked at me. I moved a bit closer and they didn’t shy away. I’m not sure how long we stood there, but it was long enough to establish a wordless communication.

As I considered this remarkable (at least to me) event, I decided that the mountain spirits had sent these angels (messengers) to say we were welcome here. I’ve felt welcome among our wild neighbors ever since.

Second event. I have prostate cancer and am right now going through a recurrence. Last June I started radiation therapy, five days a week for seven weeks. The morning before I started radiation two elk bucks jumped the five-foot fence around our back and began eating dandelions. They stayed in our yard that night and left the next day. They were the only wild animals I’ve seen in our back since the mule deer visitation five years ago. The mountain spirits had come to reassure me, calm me. It worked.

A friend challenged me to find a name for our property. I’d thought about it before but most of what I considered seemed corny or pretentious or just silly. Then my Korean daughter-in-law came for a long visit. Her presence led me to pay more attention to things Korean and I realized the person she’d called her mentor was in fact a Korean shaman.

When I looked up muism, or Korean shamanism, I found one of the mountain gods was called Sansin. Seemed right for our house.

From another, very different angle. Transubstantiation. The Catholic doctrine that the host and the wine are the body and blood of Jesus Christ. OK on the mythic level, sure, but in reality? Odd at least. There is, however, transubstantiation of a different sort. When you eat bread, the wheat becomes you. That steak. You. Brussel sprouts. You. Even chocolate. You. Everyday we transform food into our own bodies. How amazing, profound, holy is that?

What midrashim do you have about the natural world? What methods could we identify to help people see what they’re looking at?

Creating a sustainable presence for humans on this earth is the Great Work for our time. Thomas Berry


[i] Green, p. 16

[ii] Neo-paganism, Wicca or Druidism or Asatru (Nordic), for example, has shallow roots, most in nineteenth century Victorian fancy. I’m not referring to this sort of paganism.

[iii] Green, p.. 4 

[iv] Carey Reams

[v] I’m using natural world here in a restricted sense, that is, the non-artificial world, the non-humanbuilt world. This is wrong on the face of it since humans are of the natural world and our homes, for example, are no different than a swallow’s nest or a bear’s den in meeting our particular requirements. I believe we should avoid anthropocentrism if at all possible, as Green says we are neither the pinnacle nor the end of evolution.

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