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  • Ouch. Judaism. Movies.

    Spring and the Moon of Liberation

    Tuesday gratefuls: Marilyn and Irv. Great Sol. My Lodgepole Companion. Black Mountain. Those gravel roads in Indiana. Corn fields. Holsteins. Angus. Brahma. Highland. Duroc. Hampshire. Milky Sky. 35 last night up here after Sunday evening’s 82 in Denver. Altitude. Shadow Mountain. My Rock. Shadow Mountain Home.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Mountains

    One brief shining: Disrobed, crawled up on the massage table, covered my groin with a towel, and waited for Jill to come in with the needles, went to physical therapy for 10 sessions with Mary, do squats and lunges and dips, cardio, take the occasional acetaminophen, have not tried the lidocaine patches yet, and still my back hurts, more and more. Discouraged.


    So far none of the treatment modalities I’ve tried have succeeded in calming down my back. Seems to get worse. That is, more painful more often. Guess I’ve got to return to the doctor. See what else can be done. I said no surgery, but if this keeps up? Might have to consider it. Of course at 77 surgery, especially anesthesia, comes with its own risks independent of the purpose. Getting to one of those fulcrum moments. Where none of the decisions seem good.

    Not going to project an outcome or its sequelae. Too many variables. And, could produce anxiety. Going to stay in this eternal moment. Doing what I can. As I can.

    Worked out on Sunday. Just cardio. And my hip and leg didn’t like it. Hurt enough yesterday that I skipped working out. Gonna work out later today. Not working out is a slippery, self-fulfilling slope. Been there and don’t want to go back.

    This is not life-threatening, but it is life threatening. Meaning I may have to modify my life in ways I’d prefer not to. Age.


    I’ve chosen some parts of the morning service that I want to do. I can learn the Hebrew to lead the congregation in the morning blessings and I can lead the Shema. This in addition to my Torah portion. Which I have pretty much down now except for inflection.

    With learning my Torah portion, Rabbi Jamie’s conversion classes, two mussar classes and prepping for all of these, it’s been a Jewish immersion. Not only in the mikveh. I’ve also added shabbat to my week. No other classes right now. After the bar mitzvah, all this will quiet down. I’ll be done with Rabbi Jamie’s classes. The Hebrew learning will at least shift focus. I’ll still be doing Torah study with Gary as well.


    My next enthusiasm is cinema. I got a subscription to the Criterion Channel, and have access to Prime Video and Turner Classic Movies. I have to learn Chromecasting so I can use the Criterion Channel downstairs. I’m going to take my dvd player downstairs, too.

    Got pushed on this when I watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I have it on DVD. It’s so much of a commentary on the 1950’s as well as on the subject of political manipulation and/or conforming to other’s expectations. A general practice doc is the main character, referred to as a man of science. His main squeeze wears cashmere sweaters and has very pointy bras. In the evening they have martinis, barbecue, and spend time in the outdoor room with friends. His office is quintessential g.p. from the 50’s. A nurse with a tabbed hat and a white uniform. A lot of deference from the town folk.

    In other words the non-horror aspects of this movie fascinated me as much as the pods. I want to be able to write, talk about it. But to do that I have to have a good way of watching. I’ve got several mediums that will work and I have so many classical movies to see. Many again. Many for the first time.



  • Friends

    Winter and the Cold Moon

    Wednesday gratefuls: Shirley Waste. Those plastic trash bins. Alan. First Watch, a breakfast chain. Pretty good. Wheatridge. Still learning the contours of Denver and its suburbs. Clear roads after a good Snow over the weekend. Colorado. The Rockies. The solar Snow shovel. My torah portion. Hebrew software. Boker tov to all of you out there. Good morning. With a happy lev. And, a smile.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Learning Hebrew

    One brief shining: Made coffee, fussed in the kitchen, threw some trash out through my window trash portal, not wanting to go outside and drag the garbage bin and the recycling bin through the snow covering the driveway, or be outside in the cold, yet as a homeowner my gloves slid over my fingers, scarf around my neck, watch cap over the ears, and I became a mule.


    Second session with Tara. Read through my whole torah portion. All three verses. Did pretty well. In this case the Hebrew has vowels which aid pronunciation and breaking words into syllables. So I have to learn to recognize and pronounce the letters of the Hebrew alphabet as well as its vowel markers. Tara calls this decoding. I’m not translating, instead I’m learning how to say out loud Hebrew words. And not just any Hebrew words, but the particular words in the three sentences I have to read aloud on the day of my bar mitzvah.

    There are two other parts to the process that increase the level of difficulty. First, the torah scroll itself has no vowel markers. Never has, never will. That means I have to know my verses well enough that I can recall the vowel markers and syllable breaks on my own. I’m not to that stage of my learning at all. Second, the torah portion has a melody, or trope. There are many melodies. And markers called cantillations to guide the reader/singer/chanter. I’m not to that point in my learning. Not at all. As Alan pointed out yesterday, twelve and thirteen year old boys whose voices have begun to change do this. So…

    June 12th may be almost five months from now but there are parts of this, like the cantillations, that will require more of me.


    Alan’s new electric BMW has navigated the Panama Canal and is on its way to the Port of L.A. and a BMW vehicle distribution center, V.D.C. In the importing company’s V.D.C. cars get tricked out to meet US pollution standards, have any shipping damage repaired, and otherwise get ready for their over land delivery. Should arrive sometime in February.

    It was good to see Alan yesterday. It had been awhile. Holidays and missed dates and all. We’re going to have breakfast again on Friday, this time we hope with Joan whom I haven’t seen since last year. On the Ancient Brothers Monday I recounted how glad I was to see each of them. Same reason.

    I don’t need a lot of human interaction, but I do need more than I had over the last couple of weeks.



  • Todah, Tara

    Winter and the Winter Solstice Moon

    Wednesday gratefuls: Trash day. New year, old trash. Still, the dark. The eight point Bull Elk I saw delicately eating grass. The ups and downs, curves and short straights of Mountain driving. Snow and cold on the way. Eleanor. Tara’s new all black Puppy. Her friend, maybe the sweetest dog I’ve met this year. Tara. A truly great teacher. She has me believing I can learn Hebrew. I already have the first sentence of my bar mitzvah portion down. Two sessions. Ariane, another engineer in my life.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Eleanor

    One brief shining: Two tail wagging, grinning Dogs ran up to me as I sat down at Tara’s house, the Puppy put two paws on my knee and proceeded to kiss, kiss, kiss, and then the other one all white to Eleanor’s all black, walked up, smiled and kissed, kissed, kissed the other side of my face little pink tongues at work seeking salt or being ecstatic to meet me, either one just fine.


    I’ve not had many great teachers in my life. A few good ones, maybe two excellent ones, and two great ones. The two great ones are at Congregation Beth Evergreen: Rabbi Jamie and Tara Saltzman. Rabbi Jamie I’ve talked about before. He has an ability to contain diverse and divergent thoughts, make them visible. Then to celebrate them in his students.

    I’ve learned a new way of learning from him, appreciating the value in ideas I may see as wrong, faulty, or even repellent. What a gift. Appreciative inquiry I think it’s called. This sort of learning was not absent in my life. I’ve learned from conservative political thinkers and multiple philosophers with whom I disagreed, but Rabbi Jamie makes this way of learning his default.

    Tara I’ve known as a friend for eight years. And a good one. Many heart-to-hearts, or levs-to-levs. I’ve not experienced her however in her primary career role as an educator. Until now. She may change a long standing reticence toward language for me.

    My experience of learning (not learning) German in my freshman year at Wabash  gave me linguistic phobia. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I gave up. Just quit. I saw the C or D coming with no way of raising it. So I got out before that happened. After that, when learning a language came up, I would say something along these lines: Oh, language and me? No, thanks. Or, Math, music, and language go together. I’ve only got math of the three. Defensive. Barrier creating. Self fulfilling.

    Yes, I did pick up Latin again and got a good ways into it because I wanted to read Ovid in the original. But I had a positive experience with Latin in high school. French, too. That’s why I eagerly tried German, wanting to read Kant, Heidegger, Husserl in the original. Not sure why I was so bad at it, maybe it was the method, for sure it was how I responded to the method. Which I don’t recall now.

    Oddly, at the same time I took logic. I had the same experience with it at first. Just. Couldn’t. Get it. But I hung in there, studied hard, and by the midterm I found it fun. What was the difference? I don’t know. Logic itself is a language.

    Anyhow at this long distance, I took German in 1965, almost 60 years ago, I regret it still. A personal failure that probably shut down many possible experiences as I traveled and grew in my learning.


    But Tara has me convinced I can learn Hebrew. I’ve already learned the first full sentence of three in my text portion. How bout that? She combines unwavering support with a keen sense of what will be helpful for my learning. She’s a visual learner so she draws images that help her. Like a coffee cup handle that reminds her of the Hebrew letter, kaf. She says I’ll have my Torah portion done in three weeks. And, I believe her.

    I want to continue until I can translate the Torah. A hefty goal but one I believe I can handle with Tara’s teaching. Wouldn’t it be ironic if I erased my fear (yes that’s what it really is) of language engendered by German by learning Hebrew. Something sorta cool about that.

  • It’s a New Day, It’s a New Life, and I’m Feeling Good

    Winter and the Winter Solstice Moon

    Tuesday gratefuls: The Shema. Hebrew. Decoding. Learning a language. Ooph. Sinking into the New Year. Great Sol blazes across another Colorado blue Sky. Black-eyed Peas. Black Beans. Black-eyed Pea soup. Cooking. In my remodeled kitchen. Tom’s poems and his depth. Mario’s optimism and self-confidence. Paul’s will and intellect. Bill’s steadiness and insight. The Ancient Brothers. Five years or so of honesty, authenticity, compassion, and love. Diane in Taiwan. Great photos. Tara and her skill as a teacher. My friends.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Soup in Winter

    One brief shining: Yes oh yes each morning a resurrection, each day a new life, new chances for love and justice and compassion, for leadership in your own heart, for doing what you can, surrendering when you must, for standing out as the unique and irreplaceable one that you are as part of the one that envelops all in its sacred embrace.


    Leaning into the Jewish idea that each morning is a resurrection from the one-sixtieth of death that is a night’s sleep. Each day is a new life we could even say a new year since it’s the only time you have this new year, this day. What is your kavanah, your intention, for this new life you’ve been given? Yes, given. You woke up, didn’t you? Grief teaches us about the wonder and awe of this simple pleasure, waking up. And about the opportunity it is. This is not just any day, it’s a new day!

    Perhaps we should set aside New Year’s resolutions. As if we didn’t know that already, right? Instead let’s make new day intentions. Maybe find a bit more joy than yesterday. Imagine if you could find just a bit more joy each day. What could you feel like at the end of a month?

    Perhaps a bit more calmness. Not a lot. You don’t have to wind down, be chill in every moment. No. Take a breath now and then today. Try that 4-7-8 breathing or some other calming technique. At least once. See if it helps.

    In my case. Give focused attention to Hebrew while at Tara’s. Prep that black-eyed Pea soup for the MVP group tomorrow night. Consider driving into Denver to Listenup and buy a new cd player. Smile at that Lodgepole soaking up the heat and energy from Great Sol. Be easy as I do all these things. Not pressing as I might. Not pushing. Flowing with them. Letting the Water of my day find its own path to the gentleness of evening.


    And, in other news. In an 8-7 decision Israel’s Supreme Court had its Marbury v. Madison moment and came down on the side of judicial authority. We’ve not heard the last of this one. Also, a Korean presidential candidate got stabbed in Busan. Japan had another quake, a 7.6 with many aftershocks. Tsunami warnings in Japan and Korea. And 45’s star continues to rise among the ranks of the Grand Old Party. May it go nova and turn into a political black hole for all of them.



  • Faith

    Winter and the Winter Solstice Moon

    Wednesday gratefuls: Marilyn and Irv. Tara. The dark. Gradualism. Getting things done, slowly. Surrender. Emunah. Faith. The Jewish Way. Mussar. Torah. Shabbat. Holidays. Zen. Taoism. Easy Entrees. Kavanah for 2025. Choosing a way forward. Including surrender. On signs and portents. Trash day delay. Mark, mail carrier. Ana and Lita, housecleaners. Vince, handyman and Snow plower. Helping me live independently.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Surrender

    One brief shining: Opening my arms and leaning back, letting 2025 come at me with all its got while I smile and wait knowing this next year is the one I’ve been waiting for, the one when magical and miraculous things will happen, when love will be the only thing left, when I will once again live as I’m meant to with human and wild, life and death, intellect and ignorance.


    I could explain it with cognitive bias. Or whatever it’s called when you have something front of mind and you keep seeing references to it in newspapers, books, hear it come into conversation, happen upon a magazine article that features it. But I won’t.  Let me give an example. Long ago I bought an Anne Rice book featuring angels. This maven of the vampire world decided to write a book about goodness instead of evil, I guess. I liked Lestat and the Mayfair witches so I’d give it a go. It was on my Kindle and I never got around to it.

    This week I picked it up. It has, in the beginning, a heavily Roman Catholic emphasis and if you know Anne Rice that won’t surprise you. What surprised me was the main story line about Jews in thirteenth century England. It would have been a curiosity to me when I bought the book, now it has existential meaning. This is not a great book by any means, though an offhand comment by Fluria, a bright and capable Jewish woman, struck me. She spoke about Jews in Oxford being harassed, their homes burned, “It spreads like a plague,” she said, worrying about her community in Norwich. Oh, just like Israel v. Hamas affects Jewish life in the U.S.

    My inner life has taken a new direction and my mind reinforces it whenever it can. Yes. But why did I pick up the book now? Why did my decision to convert coincide with the Israel Hamas tragedy? I chose emunah, faith, as my mussar evening long before I chose to convert. Now it challenges me, as I wanted it to, in a way much different to what I intended. How did it happen that I would have a bar mitzvah?

    I’m choosing to surrender to the notion that cognitive bias works in mysterious ways its wonders to perform. That my new, dare I call it faith, in a Jewish life comforts and supports me, gives me confidence that my life will grow in purpose and love. That’s what my conversion meant. For me, Judaism evokes faith in a grounded experience, one rooted in the soil of Mother Earth and in the souls of my sacred community, nourished by compost from a rich and varied tradition.






  • The Death Card

    Summer and the Lughnasa Moon

    Friday gratefuls: Alan and the Parkside breakfast spot. Rabbi Jamie, Ellen, Marilyn (x2), Carol, Sally, Diane, Rebecca. The hot dog lady. The drive up Brook Forest to Shadow Mountain. The still rapid Maxwell Creek along the roadside. The Rock faces, the Ponderosa and Lodgepoles and Aspens and Willows and Dogwoods. The Cow Elk that sauntered across the road in front of me.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Getting up only one time last night.

    Tarot of the Morning: Death, 13th card of the Major Arcana


    We’ll get to the Tarot later, but let me say before we do that it’s good news to me.

    Yesterday I met Alan for breakfast at the Parkside. A large patio offers outside dining. A cool morning when I got there at 9:20, the Sun crept around until, as in the parable, I took my jacket off and hung it on the chair.

    Before I left for Evergreen, the boys of Grant Property Medic came to weed whack the lawn. That’s the way they do it. A little strange, but ok. They were only response I got to a request on Nextdoor Shadow Mountain for lawn mowers.

    Not cheap. But, it’s done. The grasses in some spots were thigh high thanks to the rain we’ve gotten. They had gotten ahead of me while I was in Hawaii. Gotta get my own mower repaired, but I needed to get the place mowed once before I do that. Only two, three times a year anyhow and done for fire mitigation, not for house beautiful.

    Still hacking away at budget stuff. A busy week, busier than I thought it would be. Knowledge level about the budget, our assets, cash flow increasing. Not there yet though. Have to keep weed whacking my way through the underbrush. As I often say under my breath, you’re getting there, Charlie. You’re getting there.

    At 7:30 this morning I have another round of p.t. Rebecca has me gradually ramping up my exercise routine. My leg feels much better, about ready to get back to cardio. Want to include at least a hike a week. I’ve wanted to do this for years, literally.

    Mussar, Thursday afternoon version, met. Good to be back there on a regular basis. As with Alan, I enjoy seeing folks, being with them, thinking with them.

    Before the meeting I went over to the yahrzeit wall and found Kate’s plaque, newly installed. A bit of a shock, seeing it there, even though I expected it. I still have the occasional, oh, I gotta tell Kate moment, so it’s good to have the reminders that she is dead. That may seem weird, but it’s true. Acceptance is a process, a learned state, and it takes repetition.

    For example, Eduardo told the other day that he’s sixty. Wow. Would not have guessed that. I immediately thought, Kate will be surprised. Who knows, maybe she is.

    Had to break off writing this morning. P.T. at 7:30 am. Rebecca furloughed me next week based on good progress. We’ll see how I do and adjust if necessary the week after. A rational choice. Not a maximum revenue approach. Salute Rebecca.

    Down the hill to Hwy 470 to Kipling, up Kipling to Chatfield, Wells Fargo. Safe Deposit box. Hunting for our marriage license which I will need to finish my application for Social Security survivor benefits. Also picking up the remainder of Kate’s jewelry connection to pass on to Jerry Miller, Sarah’s husband. Kate’s wish.

    I’m holding back two pieces, one an emerald ring I had made for Kate when she had a breast cancer scare 20 years or so ago. I’m going to wear it in memory of her. Also, a gold and lapis lazuli necklace Kate bought in Santorini on our cruise of the Aegean. Again, a memory piece.

    After sifting through the papers and boxes, throwing out some no longer needed, like my receipt for Blizzaks from TireRack.com (no idea why it was there in the first place), I concluded that the marriage license was not there. Have to get one from Ramsey County vital records.

    On the way home I stopped in to see Jackie, my hair stylist, and changed my appointment to the next week. Tom’s coming and we’re gonna be out doing things.

    Time to revert back to the death card. The most feared card in the Tarot deck. This came up on many of the commentators websites. For example: “First things first, don’t be afraid if you’ve pulled the death tarot card! Along with the Tower and the Devil, Death is one of the most feared cards in a Tarot deck. This is normal since most people fear dying and any card representing such a thing would naturally be viewed as negative.”  A little spark of joy. 

    The same website offers these words to describe the significance of the upright Death card: “Ending of a cycle, transitions, getting rid of excess, powerful movement.” If you put this together with the six of cups I drew yesterday: “With the Six of Cups reversed, you can finally close accounts with the emotional undertow that has been part of your life.“. it’s not tough to recognize the pattern.

    We’ll go into the major arcana/minor arcana distinctions once I’m clearer on them, but for now it’s enough to observe that the Death card is one of the Major Arcana, the 13th of 22. My life since Kate’s illness and decline finished on April 12th with her death. A long, difficult, and often painful journey. A shift in life style to one more reclusive and focused on medical matters, uncertainty, angst. Around 3 years or so total. A distinct intensification over the last year.

    As the last three months have passed, a month for each year?, a storm of emotions has crossed my inner world. Horror, terror, fear. Abandonment, loss. Tears and a heart rent by anguish. Mourning. Beautiful and rooted rituals, most from the Jewish perspective, held me in an alembic, a place where the fire of those emotions could drive away the dross and leave me with the gold of Kate’s memory, not as a source of torment, but as a source of sustaining wisdom and love.

    That gradual change has brought a punctuation to the last three years, a period, or perhaps better, a semicolon, not jettisoning it as too awful, but making it an and. There were those three years; and, there is the next phase of my life. The Death card and the six of cups underline that change for me. I see it in them and they, somehow, see it in me.

    What the effect of that transition, the end of the Kate cycle of my life, means is not yet apparent. Nor could it be. I’m a new born. A different life will grow from the fertile soil of this change. I know it. And, I trust it will be a good one.

    So. Yeah, Death card! Thanks six of cups.







  • Ah

    Language. Language about language. Language about languages. Language about the mind, created in the mind. The mind talking to itself, using symbols and signs. Which it has to interpret, even the ones it uses to talk to itself. A Mobius strip of neurons and synapses.

    Data. Outside data. Collected. Fingers. Nose. Ears. Eyes. Tongue. Which the mind interprets. Builds. Say, a Tree. A lover. An Ocean. That pickup truck. A Dog. Stars.

    Words not created in this mind. What are (a more loaded verb here than often understood) they? Where are they? In my mind where I’ve put the pieces together or out there, somewhere? What do they mean, those words? What did the one who wrote them mean them to mean? How can I know?

    Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. LW. Does this seal our lips forever?

    Or, I think of David Hume, that Scottish curmudgeon, kicking a cabinet and saying, “I refute it thus.” Speaking of Lord Berkley. “To be is to be perceived.” The stubborn persistence of things. That stubborn consensus we seem to share. Yes, the tree is there. Where? Right over there.

    I believe I prefer William James, “Consciousness is a blooming, buzzing confusion.” We put down this yod, that hey. A vav. One more hey. And we agree, sort of, about what they denote. Or, we don’t.

    Look at the evidence. Fake news. It’s all in your mind.

    No, no. It’s really there.

    Oh, really? How do you know?

    I see it. I can touch it. I can smell it.



  • Sword, Sorrow, Simplicity

    Beltane and the Island Moon

    Free writing for my Hebrew alphabet class

    1969. A crowd. Mostly young. “We’re not gonna study war no more.”

    Swords planted deep in the bodies of Vietnamese guerrillas. The Cong.

    Swords planted lev deep in the young Americans who fought there.

    Stop it. Stop it. Stop it.Flag draped coffins unloading from the cargo planes in Delaware.

    Sorrow. A deep Sorrow. Back to the land, away from the fighting against the fighting. Simplicity. Not so much. The Peaceable Kingdom. Not so much.

    2021. Hickam Air Force Base. Joseph, Major Joseph. Manning the Philippines desk. A China barrier. My son, Major Joseph.

    Sorrow. Kate dead a month ago. Sorrow. Alone without my partner.

    My son. A sword himself. Command and Control. Bombs. Troop support.

    No longer simple. Just. Not. Simple. He loves this country. Wants to defend it.

    He is a warrior. A sword for each of us who claim America as home.

    I bless him. Anoint him with oil. Explain to him the sorrow of war.

    He knows already. Better than I do. His friends have died. He has killed.

    Just. Not. Simple.

    He wraps his arms around me, “I love you, Dad.” No sorrow. No simplicity.

    Just love and family and death and grieving.


  • What Torah Might We Write?

    Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

    sumi-e Hebrew script

    Went to a bagel table at CBE yesterday. Steve Tick, a congregant and a lawyer, presented on the parshah for the week, Deut. 7:12-11:25. We read all the way through it, taking turns. He’s got a lot of torah knowledge, having studied with a scholar/rabbi for over 25 years.

    A bagel table is done in lieu of a Friday night service and usually involves discussion of the week’s parshah. The congregation buys bagels, lox, and shmear. Steve brought coffee, Starbucks in four tall paper cups. He led us through the parsha with his own commentary, asking questions as we worked our way through the text.

    My bagel table on September 14th has a parshah much further along: Deut. 21:10–25:19. Torah portions have names, their first words. In this case Ki Teitzei, which means when you go out. Not sure how I’ll use the parshah.

    Torah as the first five books of the Tanakh, written by Moses in the traditional understanding, are read and re-read each year. The Jewish lectionary runs from Simchat Torah to Simchat Torah, the joy of the Torah, when the annual cycle of public torah readings finishes and a new one begins with Gen. 1:1.

    Torah, or to instruct in Hebrew, can mean all the books of the Tanakh. It can also mean the whole body of Jewish law and teaching. This broad sense of the torah is where most Jewish scholars stop, the broadest sense then.

    Rabbi Jamie goes beyond even that. He sees torah as anything that instructs us, anything from which we learn what it means to be (become) human. Nature. Other people. Animals. Thought. Literature. Poetry. Our own life history.

    At the bagel table on the 14th we’ll use ki teitzei as a sample text for Rabbi Jamie’s expanded sense of torah. With Emerson’s introduction to nature, we’ll explore how revelation comes to us now. What torah might we write?

  • The Holy

    Winter                                                                     Waxing Moon

    Going for calories
    Going for calories

    Took Kate to Bailey yesterday, the social hall of St. Mary’s of the Rockies. She stayed several hours for a meeting of the Bailey Patchworkers. It was the first time she’d been back since August, a session when she piled up the good eats for a quilt documentation day. That was also the day I backed into her friend’s car. With said friend in it. Sigh. Kate’s stamina has improved markedly. So good to see.

    After Bailey, I drove not home, but to Evergreen where I had lunch with Tara and Alan. Murphy’s sits right on Bear Creek, a lovely place in the spring, summer, and fall for an outside lunch. Tara and Alan and I talked CBE religious school. Alan returned Saturday from a couple of weeks in Argentina. In Patagonia, at a national park, he was told, no, you can’t walk on the glacier. You’re over 65. Didn’t know glaciers took notice of such brief lifespans; but, it was Argentina.

    gods celtic twilight yeatsI’m responsible for the next lesson, tomorrow, as I was last week, but with Alan as back up this time. Last week we worked with the middah, character trait in the Jewish ethical discipline of mussar, chesed, or loving-kindness. This week we stay in mussar, but focus on yirah. Yirah often translates as fear in the Torah, as in “the fear of the Lord.” I prefer awe as a translation, but it does mean both and we’ll use that in the class.

    Rudolf Otto, a famous theologian of the early 20th century, wrote a book called, The Idea of the Holy. I mentioned his thinking from this work in a post a couple of days ago. It’s one of a handful of theological texts that have had a radical effect on my thinking. Another is Moses and Monotheism by H. Richard Niebuhr. In both cases the authors try to dig behind religious concepts often simply accepted to find their phenomenal roots. Otto wants to understand the strange nature of the sacred. Niebuhr was after the psychic meaning of monotheism.

    Otto’s work has a lot to do with yirah. His idea of the numinous, a distinctive feeling we often equate with the holy or the sacred, has two components: mysterium tremendum et fascinans. When we encounter the numinous, we encounter mystery, a mystery that both attracts us, we want to move toward the experience (awe, yirah, fascinans), and repels us, (fear, yirah, tremendum).

    alvarez-adventure-caving-spelunking-1I have had many encounters of this kind and they vary in which characteristic of the Holy they emphasize. I’ve written before about my mystical experience on the quad at Ball State. Fascinans dominated. I wanted to be there, in a state of total linkage with all. I wanted to stay. In high school I attended a summer church camp at Epworth Forest in Indiana. We learned a lot about communion and in particular I took to the heart the idea that if we didn’t reconcile with others, we might “eat and drink our own damnation.” OK. I was an impressionable guy in that moment. But the fear occasioned by that idea made me find a young woman whom I’d teased and ask for her forgiveness. Stepping into the Sistine Chapel. Awe. Driving to Bailey and seeing the Continental Divide capped with snow. Awe. Contemplating my own death. Fear moving toward awe.

    Processed with VSCOcam with p5 preset

    Another. In Ely, Minnesota at the International Wolf Center, during a week long wolf studies immersion, we did a necroposy on a collared wolf that had been hit by a car. When we opened his rib cage, a space opened up in front of me where the mystery of life and death vibrated, took me in, absorbed me. This was both fascinans and tremendum. I wanted to look away, to be elsewhere. Right now. I wanted to dive in, swim in the galaxy revealed by this too intimate experience.

    How about you? Got any experiences of the holy or the sacred? I especially encourage considering Otto’s point that an experience of the Holy is without moral freight. It simply is. We apply the morality later, much later.



    *”In his most famous book, Das Heilige, Otto turned from a critical philosophical account of the possibility of religious experience to a descriptive psychology of the content of that experience and its relationship to the “rational,” symbolic dimension of religion. To designate religious feelings at their most distinctive he coined the word numinous, which referred, he said, to the Holy or Sacred minus the moral dimension. But he soon encountered a methodological limitation. Conscious experience is only available to the person who has it; therefore, it is possible to formulate a descriptive account of religious feelings only on the basis of introspection, informed by apparent similarities in what others have said. In other words, in order to study the experience that is the ultimate source of religion, a scholar must have a sensus numinis, an ability to experience numinous feelings—just as the description of color in painting or pitch in music requires certain kinds of perceptual abilities. Those who have such abilities, Otto suggested, experience the numinous as a mysterium tremendum et fascinans. As a mysterium, it is completely other, beyond the realm of ordinary existence, apprehensible but not comprehensible, evoking in human beings the feeling of stupor and stunned silence. People find this mysterium both attractive (fascinans ) and repulsive (tremendum ). On the one hand, it arouses the sense of grace, love, and mercy. On the other, it arouses feelings of terror and awe and the conviction that human beings are in reality nothing—feelings to which Otto, countering tendencies to equate genuine religion with love, gave a great deal of attention.” encyclopedia.com