Lughnasa Monsoon Moon
Liberal religion. An odd term. Maybe oxymoronic? I mean, what is more conservative than our human wonderings about death and about how to live? What is older than those questions?
And the variety of answers are endless. Taoism, Buddhism, Southern Baptists, Mithraism, Santa Muerte, Hinduism, Catholicism, Judaism and many, many others. Bahai, Druze, Islam. And, no, they don’t all have the same message, hardly.
Back in 1992 or so, I’d given up on one of those answers, Christianity. My reasons were emotional, the rationale came later. Mostly, I’d begun to find my spirituality in a very different locale, in my interior life and in the soil, in plants, in animals. Didn’t work so well in the pulpit.
I needed a place where I could be who I had become. I found a group of folks meeting in a round room over a library. A library. Worshipping in one of my favorite institutions, artifacts of human searching arrayed below us. This was the early Groveland. 25 years later here we are, celebrating your persistence, celebrating the spot you’ve carved out of humanity’s endless quest for knowing how things are with ourselves, with our planet, with time itself.
“The problem lies not with seeking God, but with those who think they’ve found God.” Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism. In an odd twist to my own seeking, Kate and I have become members of Congregation Beth Evergreen in Evergreen, Colorado, close to our home on Shadow Mountain. It’s a Reconstructionist congregation. No, I’ve not converted. They’re fine with me being what I call, for simplicity’s sake, a pagan.
“The past gets a vote, but not a veto.” Kaplan again. By this he means, quite heretically within traditional Judaism, that Judaism itself is always changing, always reconstructing itself and that literally nothing is sacred. He was not, for example, a supernaturalist.
I tell people that I’m not a Jew, but I am a reconstructionist. And, I am. Here’s the interesting part. According to Rabbi Jamie Arnold, Kaplan got his approach from, drum roll… Emerson. I don’t know that this quote is the exact place, but it’s sentiment is clearly Kaplan’s and current reconstructionist:
“Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? 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? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.”
I offer this brief excursion into Judaism as a way of underscoring the liberal religious pilgrimage. It is one that says, yes the questions of religion are important because they are deeply human questions, so important in fact that we should hold all of the answers loosely, hold them as clues, as trail markers, not as destinations. That we should remain open to new clues, new trails, new ways of approaching this ancient probing of what matters most.
When we do, as Emerson did, as you here at Groveland do, we can never tell the impact of it. We might transform that Muslim cleric, that Hindu priest, or, that Conservative Rabbi, Mordecai Kaplan.
“It is not the seeking of God that is the problem.” No, as Kaplan says, the problem is with those who calcify the pilgrimage, enshrine the past, stop up their ears, their eyes, close their minds. You, Groveland, are caravan serai on the oldest ancientrail of all. And, a necessary one. Necessary for what? Unclear. And that’s the point.