We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Talmud and Corona

Written By: Charles - Mar• 16•20

Imbolc and the Leap Year Moon

Monday gratefuls: Isolation and flattening the curve. School’s out, a good deal for Jon and the kids. Global pandemic. We are all globalists now. Talmud. The internet. DSL. The grinding down of the stock market. Immune systems. My fingers, not taking them for granted. CBE. Mark in Saudi Arabia. Joseph and Mary in Singapore. Diane in San Francisco.

As some of you may recall, I’m engaged in daf yomi, that is, reading one full page (front and back), a daf, of the Talmud* each day. I got pretty far behind during the Gertie/Murdoch crisis here, but I’m catching up.

The mishna, written down by Judah the Prince in 200 CE, had been oral law, and is the heart of the Talmud. Judah probably chose to make this drastic change due to the death of many rabbis and scholars in failed revolts early in the common era, . Until Judah, the mishna had been learned by scholars through continuous teaching over the generations. The gemara, the interpretation of the written mishna by later rabbis, expands on and gives broader meaning to the mishna. The two together form the Talmud.

Sounds pretty dry, right? Well, in some instances, yes, but often very engaging and wise, the Talmud covers a diverse range of topics. Its first tractate, Berakhot, or blessings, focuses on rules for prayer and blessings, but it ranges far and wide. To give you a feeling for the Talmud I’m reproducing a small amount of material from Berakhot’s 57th daf, material that seems germane (ha) to our coronavirus inflected and infected time.

Ber. 57b Six matters are good omens for the sick: Sneezing, sweating, diarrhea, a seminal emission, sleep, and a dream. These are all alluded to in Scripture: Sneezing, as it is written: “His sneezes flash forth light” (Job 41:10), indicating that by means of a sneeze one comes to see the light of the world. Sweat, as it is written: “In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread” (Genesis 3:19). Diarrhea, as it is written: “He that is bent down shall speedily be loosed; and he shall not go down dying into the pit” (Isaiah 51:14). A seminal emission, as it is written: “That he might see his seed, prolong his days” (Isaiah 53:10). Sleep, as it is written: “I should have slept; then had I been at rest” (Job 3:13). A dream, as it is written: “Wherefore You recover me [vataḥalimeni], and make me to live” (Isaiah 38:16); vataḥalimeni is interpreted as etymologically similar to ḥalom, dream.

Similarly: Six matters cure a sick person from his illness, and their cure is an effective cure. They are: Cabbage, beets, dried foley, a medicinal plant, the stomach, the placenta, and the diaphragm of an animal. Some say that small fish also possess these qualities. Furthermore, small fish cause one’s entire body to flourish and become healthy.

*”During the centuries following Rabbi Judah’s editing of the Mishna, it was studied exhaustively by generation after generation of rabbis. Eventually, some of these rabbis wrote down their discussions and commentaries on the Mishna’s laws in a series of books known as the Talmud. The rabbis of Palestine edited their discussions of the Mishna about the year 400. Their work became known as the Palestinian Talmud (in Hebrew, Talmud Yerushalmi, which literally means “Jerusalem Talmud”).”

“More than a century later, some of the leading Babylonian rabbis compiled another editing of the discussions on the Mishna. By then, these deliberations had been going on some three hundred years. The Babylon edition was far more extensive than its Palestinian counterpart, so that the Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli) became the most authoritative compilation of the Oral Law. When people speak of studying “the Talmud,” they almost invariably mean the Bavli rather than the Yerushalmi.” Jewish Library

Quit

Written By: Charles - Mar• 15•20

Imbolc and the Leap Year Moon

Sunday gratefuls: Annie, for the hamburger patties from Omaha Steaks. On the Move Fitness for my cache of workouts. Myself for continuing to exercise. Mark, our mail guy, for defeating the Conifer Post Office to deliver our mail. CBE for its responsible handling of social distancing. Seoah and Joe. Happily married, far apart. Murdoch and the kennel manager’s care for his paws.

Spits a stream of brown tobacco, hops off his horse. He’s got no quit in him. The football player. The doctor working long hours. That convenience store clerk. Grocery store folks right now. But, not me.

I got quit in me. Example. Went to get the groceries yesterday which pushed back my exercise time. When I got to it, I thought, nah. Too late. I’ll just do the cardio, skip the resistance work. An hour and a half or so later I did my last crunches, finished with balance work. It’s not whether you have quit in you, but whether you let the quit control your behavior. Habit is a great opponent of quit.

Speaking of groceries: cucumbers, antibacterial handwash, Caesar salads, bananas, whole chicken, eggs. Nada. “We got slaughtered yesterday.” (Friday), said the King Sooper woman who brought out what remained of my grocery list. The osmotic pressure of social distancing, of fear, of get mine before other folks.

Irrational. This is not a storm. Nothing has happened to the grocery supply chain. Trucks and warehouses, wholesalers, farmers still working. Yet, we can screw things up for each other. Let anxiety rule our behavior. Going to try again tomorrow, after the trucks come in.

Blood pressure rising. Not sure why though I’m on three meds right now that can raise it: Lupron, prednisone inhaler, albuterol. Gonna measure it at 8 am and 8 pm for a couple of weeks, see if it stays up. If it does, time to do something. With kidney disease and a family history of stroke watching blood pressure, controlling it, is important.

Cancer. May have it. May not. Super sensitive psa on April 2nd. On April 10th I get my third and I hope my final Lupron injection. See Eigner, my urologist, on the 17th. He and I will plan how to handle my post lupron care. I know it will include at least a super sensitive psa sometime in July; the key measure which should tell whether the radiation, which I began in June of last year, did what it was supposed to do. That is, cure me.

How often will I do the super-sensitive psa tests? Will I require more frequent surveillance? Say, a psa test every three months? What happens if the radiation didn’t get it all? Coming into the home stretch for treatment of this recurrence. Excited, a bit nervous. Still seems pretty drawn out in terms of learning how effective the treatment has been, but I knew that would be true from the start.

Still Absorbing

Written By: Charles - Mar• 14•20

Imbolc and the Leap Year Moon

Saturday gratefuls: Chill air. Blue sky. A light covering of snow. Seoah’s meal last night, her version of scalloped potatoes. The coronavirus and its ability to make us reevaluate what’s important. Gov. Polis and his response here in Colorado. Health care workers: cleaners, docs, nurses, p.a.’s, receptionists, all of them. The literal front line for all of us. Gertie, our sweet girl.

Introverts lead the fight for social distancing! Winner, winner, chicken dinner. This is our time. We could go to the mall, an NBA game, that big religious service. Unless too many take the opportunity. Then, back home to the hygge. This is an hygge and introverts’ moment. We are all introverts during the virus crisis.

Like you, probably, I’m tired of hearing about the coronavirus, yet I can’t turn away. It’s a slow motion tsunami. We have time to reach the safe places before it crests, but it seems weird. All this waiting. This hiding.

Right now it has a pre-holiday, pre-big storm feel. Something big’s coming and we’re getting ready. I hope you are neither sick yourself nor anyone close to you.

I’m heading off to the post office and to King Sooper. Picking up groceries is a perfect way to social distance the act of grocery shopping. The post office is not, but taxes. You know the saying, nothing’s certain but the coronavirus and taxes.

Going Viral

Written By: Charles - Mar• 13•20

Imbolc and the Leap Year Moon

Friday gratefuls: Bergen Bark Inn. Wonderful care for Murdoch. And, they can keep him through the time we need. Yeah! A pleasant family meal at Brook’s Tavern. Lots of laughter and smiles. Seoah, the fashionista. Kate’s recovery from her flare. CBE. Kep, who stayed up for me on Wednesday night. Rigel, who is her own dog, no matter what.

Well, gosh.* Jon’s school is closed. Ruth and Gabe’s school is closed. For three weeks at least. Talk in the halls Wednesday at CBE mentioned closing of banker’s conferences, business conferences. “But Disney is still open.” I’m sure you know of many things closed or canceled.

Good time to live in the mountains, far away from the madding crowd. In case you wonder who has the real power here on earth, read the newspaper or listen to the news. This article from the New York Times, How Much Worse Could the Virus Get, in Charts, gives you a good idea about bad things that could happen. In charts.

There’s a fog obscuring even our lodgpole pines. It’s a good metaphor for the confusion and fumbling the whole society is going through. We cannot leave each other alone, yet we must, at least for awhile. As social animals, we’re wired to see other, a lot. As introverts, Kate and I are not dramatically affected by social distancing, but the effect of the virus impacts us in many ways anyhow.

Seoah’s here a month longer because of the virus in Singapore. My sister Mary’s teaching is different there, too. Both she and Joseph are living in a place that seems to have a good plan which is reassuring. Seoah’s Korea has many challenges right now, though they have good plans in place, too. Brother Mark in Saudi Arabia will spend the next few days getting familiar with Blackboard, an online learning tool, so he can teach remotely.

Schools are closing here in Colorado. Governor Polis declared a state of emergency yesterday. Newspaper front pages are infected by the virus, its stories crowding out other news.

And, guess what? Trump has badly fumbled our response here. We do not have a good plan, in fact, we don’t have a national plan. Our best responses are happening at state levels. The CDC under Trump has floundered as it didn’t quickly make testing free and widely available.

What a couple of weeks. Biden rides out of Super Tuesday on what looks like the winning horse. The economy tanks a growth market into bear market territory, a 20% loss. News from around the world is grim and getting grimmer. We’ll wait and see. What else is there to do?

*” Viruses are found in almost every ecosystem on Earth and are the most numerous type of biological entity.[5][6]…Viruses are considered by some to be a life form, because they carry genetic material, reproduce, and evolve through natural selection, although they lack key characteristics (such as cell structure) that are generally considered necessary to count as life. Because they possess some but not all such qualities, viruses have been described as “organisms at the edge of life”,[8] and as replicators.[9]wiki

In the Time of the Crown

Written By: Charles - Mar• 12•20

Imbolc and the Leap Year Moon

Thursday gratefuls: the warm reception for my presentation yesterday. Alan and the Bread Lounge. Being the doorman last night for Purim. Seoah greeting me when I got home. Kep, who stayed up waiting on me. The melting of the snow. The coming snow. The drive back from the Kabbalah Experience.

An all CBE all the time day yesterday. Left the house at 7:45 for the Kabbalah Experience. Not a fun drive into morning rush hour in Denver. If I do this again, I’ll do most of them by Zoom. It’s an unsatisfying technology in this context, perhaps because it’s not well integrated into the classroom at Kabbalah Experience.

Yesterday the sun had a corona as it sat behind a veil of cirrocumulus clouds. There was a streaky rainbow smeared across underneath it. Last night the moon, too, had a corona, a faint golden hue with a red tinged outer circle.

Seemed appropriate for life in the time of coronavirus. It’s spreading no rainbows. On the New York Times page I counted 46 stories that were virus related. That’s two-thirds.

Last night at the Purim event at Beth Evergreen I filled in for Kate who had a Sjogren’s flare. She was to be the board member on duty. The bmod greets people at the door. That’s the primary task. I also had to shoo folks into the sanctuary so the Purim spiel (a musical written by CBE’r Ron Solomon) could begin.

There was elbow bumping, some shoe greetings, and the purloined Cohen blessing, live long and prosper with fingers spread to create the shin letter in the Hebrew alphabet. There was bravado. I’m living my life as usual. I’m not afraid. There was cautious laughter with each improvised non-handshake. Even so, more folks showed up than I had imagined. The sanctuary was well-over half full, many of them older, like me.

As I opened the locked door for each congregant or visitor, I greeted them with a welcome, a smile, an occasional elbow bump. Yes, two contagions affected my work. Antisemitism keeps CBE’s doors locked at all times. We’ve had visits from the Jeffco sheriff, the FBI, and letters from politicians expressing support. It’s a virus of the heart, infectious hatred cultured in a stewpot of fear, white supremacy, Trumpian permission.

We had the whole megillah. No, really. The whole thing. On Purim the book of Esther, the megillah, is read in its entirety. It’s the story of Ruth, who saves all the Jews from the evil vizier, Haman. I want to write a bit about Purim, maybe tomorrow, but for today I’ll just add that as Haman’s name comes up in the reading everyone cranks their grogger and shouts boo! Sort of like watching a silent movie when the villain twirls his mustache.

The groggers, the boos, the whole megillah work against both contagions: antisemitism and the coronavirus. Next time you see the word coronavirus whip out your grogger (no, not that. look at the link on grogger above) and shout boo. Might catch on.

Art House Cinema

Written By: Charles - Mar• 11•20

Imbolc and the Leap Year Full Moon

Wednesday gratefuls: Kabbalah Experience. The stimulation I’ve gotten from that reading. Bill, fellow seeker and his gifts this morning. Kate and the start of our 31st year together. Kimbop. Picnic food, Seoah says, a Korean sushi-like roll. Seoah’s delight at the ease of her UPS interaction. Jackie, a sweet and delightful person. The coronavirus, for what it’s teaching us about global community and compassion.

Max von Sydow died. His Antonius Block in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal captivated me long ago. His turn in the Exorcist. Memorable and difficult. Liv Ullman, Bibbi Anderson, Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, and Ingmar Bergman introduced me to art house cinema. I got infatuated with Bergman and his ensemble of actors, watched all of them I could. Hard to remember now how difficult it was to find movies and watch them in the pre-internet era.

When I was at United Seminary, I organized an arts week. This was 1972. I was able to show two Bergman movies that had not been seen too often then, Hour of the Wolf and the Ritual. It might have been the American premier of the Ritual.

Turns out that Albert Camus’ widow was good friends with Bergman and had all of his movies in her collection. I had some connection to her but I can’t remember what it was. She lived in Wisconsin, so I borrowed them from her. It took a lot of phone calls, visits, and organizing to get them onscreen. Nowadays I could look them up on the internet, find a place to either buy or stream them, set up a projector and we’d be ready to go.

Von Sydow was a key presence in Bergman’s work. His tall, angular, serious demeanor gave each film an anchor in his gravitas. He is among my favorite actors and I’ll miss him in this life, but will continue to enjoy his work on screen.

Driving in today to make my presentation at the Kabbalah Experience in Denver. I’m feeling good about the work I’m doing in this class. It has pushed me into new clarity about religious life, given me some conceptual hooks for things I’ve been thinking about for years.

Long day. Lunch with Alan after the class. Purim celebration tonight at CBE. Kate’s the board member on duty. She greets folks as they come in. Quieter week overall. Good.

Second Draft presentation

Written By: Charles - Mar• 10•20

Imbolc and the Full Leap Year Moon

Didn’t change a lot, but I did make some significant alterations.

                                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. The Roman Catholics were relentless and 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, 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]; and, his commitment “(to)…trying to understand our relationship to the evolving truth of the natural/divine order: ‘We discover, it reveals; it reveals, we discover.’”[iv]  Instead of panentheism, then, I’m neologizing: panenpneuma.  Soul in all and all in soul.[v] You might have a better idea.

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? 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.”[vi]

A friend of mine often quotes a mentor, “See what you’re looking at.”[vii] A good beginning for a midrash of the natural world.[viii]

How to do this? 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. Can we make these same creative moves in relationship to nature? Perhaps, but we need to look at the spirit of midrash, which as I understand it is to find connections where no apparent connections exist.

The naïve viewer of nature might, for example, 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? They soak my clothing. Cool the air. Shade out the sun.

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 a 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. 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.

On the morning of the closing I went out on the rocky soil behind our new house. There stood three mule deer bucks. 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 the mountain had sent these angels (messengers) to say Kate and I were welcome on Shadow Mountain. 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 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 Sansin, a guardian spirit residing in mountains. 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] Green, p. 119

[v] I’m not happy with the word soul. It has a lot of baggage, too, just like God.

[vi] Green, p. 116

[vii] Carey Reams

[viii] 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.

I do.

Written By: Charles - Mar• 10•20

Imbolc and the Leap Year Full Moon

Tuesday gratefuls: 30 + years with Kate. Remarkable and wonderful. Cousins near and far. Especially Diane in San Francisco. Max Von Sydow. Liv Ullman. Ingmar Bergman. That art festival at United, circa 1972 or so. The red tinted halo around the Leap Year Full Moon. Kate’s work on our taxes.

In sickness and in health. We didn’t say it, but we meant it when we said I do. That was 30 years ago today in a former Federal Court chamber, tiled with highly polished wood. The Landmark Center in St. Paul. We broke a glass. Diane stood up as my best person. Tommy Joe was there. BJ and Sarah plus two hired musicians played the composition we had drafted for the reception. Joseph. Great food, friends and family.

Probably wouldn’t have taken off for Italy the next morning in 2020, but back then there was no pandemic. We landed at Leonardo Da Vinci airport and began three weeks of travel by train, pushing as far north as Inverness. Posted our thank your notes at the Vatican Post Office. Wandered Pompeii. Saw the Sistine Chapel. Joined the crowds at the Uffizi. Opera at the Vienna Opera. Der Meistersinger. The Louvre. Buying our china at the Reject China Shop.

Learning each other. Still at it. Our marriage may have started in the second millennium, but it’s picked up steam in the third. Only a few, in the wide sweep of human history, can say their marriage lasted from one millennium to the next, but we can.

She is my love, my companion, my friend, my best friend. Kate, now, and into the next millennium.

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.

Furbizia

Written By: Charles - Mar• 09•20

Imbolc and the Full Leap Year Moon

Monday gratefuls: the full Leap Year Moon over Black Mountain. Sunday and its odd hangover from years past. Buddy Mark Odegard’s book. Marilyn Saltzman’s book. 12 Whiny Jews, the Purim spiel at CBE this Wednesday. DogsonDeployment for good process. Rigel who rode with me to the post office. A light snow.

Got some ways on my presentation for March 11. As usual, too many ideas competing for space in a 10 minute time frame. When I get it written, I’ll post it here. Tried getting up to the Talmud mark, I’m on page 49 and the Daf Yomi folks have already hit p. 65. Couldn’t read more than 10 pages. That got me to to 49. Some of it is interesting, all of it is a lesson in logical reasoning, but a lot of it is boring. Endless arguments about which food to bless, with whom, when. I’m in it to finish it so I’ll keep slogging until I’m caught up and back to reading one a day.

Learned a new word in NYT coverage of the coronavirus in Italy: ““furbizia,” the Italian word for the sort of cunning or cleverness typically channeled into getting around bureaucracy and inconvenient laws.” NYT, 3/9/2020 Let’s hope furbizia, which the article says comes from Italy’s inability to protect itself from foreign invasion and foreign rulers, doesn’t derail Italian efforts. Love the word. Furbizia!

Not worried here, exactly, but cautious. In this time period when the virus has begun to spread and before we have much idea about how and where in the state it seems wise. There has been panic buying of toilet paper and water, nothing too serious yet.

A note from brother Mark in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, says Saudi schools closed. In his case they were in the middle of end of term tests. Not clear what that will mean for him. Sister Mary says the number of cases are increasing rapidly in Singapore. Joseph, of course, is there, too, and Seoah plans to return on March 29th. The Ellis clan is up against the virus.

Don’t know whether you saw that Trump was in second degree contact with the virus at the CPAC meeting in Colorado Springs. He shook hands with Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union, at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Schlapp had been in direct contact with a conference attendee who tested positive. (Washington Post article, 3/9/2020)

I think Trump has a “I won’t get this because I’m a strong white guy” attitude. Not an effective deterrent. For much of anything.

Meanwhile two older white guys need a vice president. At least we’ll not get Sarah Palin. I think Stacy Abrams is the obvious choice, now that I’ve given it more thought. She would solidify the black vote and help with the women’s vote. You could argue, I think, that a Latino female could also be a good choice for Biden. I don’t know who that would be. Democrats need to use both policy and symbol to ensure women, Latinos, and Blacks support the party’s candidate. It’s past time to deliver to all three groups.

Disease and politics dominate the news right now. Sounds like the Middle Ages.

BTW: Kate and I celebrate 30 years of marriage tomorrow. Wow.