Beltane and the Corona Lunacy II
Friday gratefuls: Beau Jo’s pizza. A rain cloud creeping down Black Mountain. What’s your fire? Ode’s question for Sunday. Mussar folk. Silence. Clean speech. Jews. CBE. Alan on zoom yesterday. The Denver Post. The Washington Post. The New York Times.
Charlie. You’re a druid! That was the Reverend Doctor Ackerman, my spiritual director. He was on staff at Westminster Presbyterian, the big downtown church in Minneapolis. He was my second spiritual director, the first being a nun in St. Paul.
The nun, whose name I don’t recall, had me write a gratitude journal. She told me that gratitude was the root of all spirituality. I’ve heard similar things many times since, but she was the first one to open my eyes to that important link between spirit and gratitude.
Ackerman was a psychologist as well as clergy. By the time I got to him I’d had many years of Jungian analysis with John Desteian, a rich and transformative experience. Jung understood better than any other psychotherapist/psychotheoretician the link between the religious journey and individuation. Going into the ministry and marrying Raeone (in the Westminster chapel) had evoked deep fissures in my psyche, places where my old, wounded self pulled apart.
The deepest rift lay between my 17th year, when mom died, and the adult persona I had crafted. I did not face her loss. I ran into the black abyss of her absence and hid there, afraid to venture out, fearful something new and awful might happen. Over that abyss I built bridges to the adult world.
The most obvious one and the easiest for me was academics. I plunged into philosophy, anthropology, geography, theater history, and later the vast intellectual world of Christianity. When I was in a library, with books on the shelf of a carrel, head down, pen in hand for notes, the anxiety disappeared. The world of ideas both excited and distracted me. This bridge still stands, the sturdiest and least pathological.
The most unconscious bridge construction came in my freshman year at Wabash College. Mom had just died. I was in a school where many of the 200 other freshmen were also valedictorians, leaders in their high schools. I was, for the first time in life, among intellectual peers. Wabash was tough.
We had to pledge a fraternity. Upper classmen got first choice on dorm rooms, filling them. Freshmen had to live on campus. So. I became a Phi Kappa Psi. Drinking, smoking. That’s what I got from being a Phi Psi. They slipped into my life, those two, and I would spend my twenties captive to both. I also picked up philosophy there, a companion for my life pilgrimage.
The addiction bridge, a destructive way to navigate the fissure, both helped to assuage the anxiety and to increase it. That bridge began to break down in my late twenties, but not before I’d decided to finish seminary and, later, marry Raeone. Both were mistakes.
Ackerman caught me as the Christian bridge, a potholed one from the beginning, had begun to crumble. About three-quarters through the Doctor of Ministry program out of McCormick Seminary in Chicago I had discovered fiction writing. I already knew then that I had to get out of the ministry.
The last bridge to adulthood I had built was marrying Raeone. Not her fault my construction project wasn’t about her, but about a need to have someone in my life, someone close. When I got sober, both the Christian and Raeone spans began to have structural problems.
To feed my growing interest in writing fantasy novels I decided to look to my past, my family. Richard Ellis had come to this country in 1707, his father a Welsh captain in William and Mary’s occupation of Ireland. The Correll’s were famine Irish. Celtic. It was the Celts who changed my life forever.
Celtic Christianity, a branch of Christianity that preceded the Roman Catholic Church in Britain, welcomed the folk religion of the Celts, incorporated it. An odd thing happened when I met, through the Celtic Christians, this ancient Celtic faith. I switched sides. It took a while, but the concept of the Great Wheel of the Seasons came to make more sense to me than any redemption or resurrection narrative. Discussing these realizations with Ackerman lead to his, You’re a Druid!
Later, after divorcing Raeone and leaving the ministry, detonating those bridge behind me, Kate and I began to build adult lives that did not need the bridges over our pain. I was sober when I met her. My mistake with Raeone had been acknowledged. With Kate I began to write, to garden, to keep bees, live with many dogs, cook, be a better father; and, much later, to wend my way with her into the large world of Jewish civilization.
That’s my adult life, this last paragraph. The only bridge remaining from the frenetic years after my mother’s death is academics. I still love it, still read, think, write. Judaism honors the academic, the intellectual. The members of CBE have gathered both of us in and hold us close.
Here’s the punchline. Following my academic inclinations, I’ve been studying Kabbalah with our very bright rabbi, Jamie Arnold. He knows me now after several years of collaboration and classes. In class on Wednesday he referred to the four covenants: the Noachic, the Abrahamic, the Mosaic, and the Davidic. These identify different aspects of Israel’s relationship with the One: between Humanity and the One, between the seeker and father of faith and his descendants, between Israel and the law, between Israel and the monarchy, the nation. We need a fifth now, Jamie said, one between us and the earth. This is the endpoint of Art Green’s argument in Radical Judaism.
“I’ll join up with that one,” I said. “Oh,” Jamie said, “I think you’re already a priest of that one.” Still buzzing in my head. More on this in another post.