Archive from August, 2013
Aug 22, 2013 - Kind of Random    No Comments

Day 63: Vacation

Person resting on grass

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Dear Pope Francis,

Well, we’ve hit the summer doldrums of late August. As I wrote in this post last weekend, I’m doing a bit of pondering and taking stock as summer draws to a close.

As part of that, I’ve realized I need a wee break from anything that resembles a routine. So, I’m going to be a little absent from the blog over the next week, until the day after Labor Day.

I may post now and again as things come up, but it won’t be every day. Rest assured, though, I’ll be back on my regular daily posting schedule come September. (I like the blog’s tagline too much to mess with that schedule.)

In the meantime, I hope you have a good rest of August. I know you worked all summer, so I hope you can have a little downtime. Even Popes need to kick back and relax now and again.

Your friend,


Aug 18, 2013 - Kind of Random    2 Comments

Day 60: Harvest

Peaches on a cutting board

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Dear Pope Francis,

One of my strongest childhood memories is of my mom canning fruit in July and August. First it would be cherries — which we grew on a farm of 400 or so trees — and then peaches, apricots and finally pears. Thinking back, I don’t know how she did it. It would be stinking hot outside and she would be in the kitchen, presiding over pots of boiling water and sugar syrup, fruit juice coating her arms up to the elbows as she peeled and pitted and cut up all of summer’s bounty. (That she also did this after the three weeks of cherry season during which she worked from sun-up to sundown, while also taking care of us three kids, is nothing short of miraculous).

After the steam settled, I remember going into the kitchen and seeing all the jars laid out on the counter, gleaming like jewels. They were actually treasures, to be pulled down from the cupboard during the dreary winter, providing a taste of summer.

As a kid, of course, I took for granted all the work and effort that went into canning. It was just what my mom did. Only now, as an adult, do I appreciate it, particularly since I haven’t had my mom’s canned peaches in awhile. She has, rightfully, retired from canning. I flirted, briefly, with the idea of doing some myself this summer. But, after peeling a couple to go into a smoothie, I quickly decided I wasn’t up to the task.

One thing I lost as I grew up and went out into the world is a sense of the movement of the seasons. As a child, a teenager and even a young adult, my life revolved around seasonal change. School started in the fall. Then came winter and Christmas. And spring and cherry blossoms and Easter. Then the cherry harvest of summer, a month to recover in August, and then back to school. As an adult, I lost that rhythm for a long time. Seasons were more of an annoyance than anything else. I’ve always dreaded fall and that long, slow descent into winter. As it freezes up outside, and the light fades, I, too, slow down and become sluggish and dimmer. I’ve learned ways to cope over the years, but it’s always a bit of a struggle. Spring comes as a relief, and then summer, and then back into fall. As I grow older, these changes seem to happen so swiftly. Where summer once seemed to stretch on for an eon or two, now it rushes by in flashes of heat and light.

Lately, though, I’m trying to lean into the seasons, and accept their unique rhythm as my own. It’s not an easy task. We live in a world where we have to have one speed — rushed — all year long. There’s no patience in today’s workplace for moving with the seasons. Despite that, I’m trying.

One thing I do recognize as August nears its end is that it’s time for me to begin an internal harvest and put up some spiritual preserves. For the last two years, while I worked on my degree, I’ve been doing a lot of inner sowing. I’ve been exposed to countless authors, speakers, theologians, and thinkers and read many, many books. I am, I think, quite full, and laden like an apple tree weighed down with a bumper crop. I’ve got so many ideas, thoughts, inspirations, and possibilities whirling around in my brain that they, at times, weigh me down.

And so, I think this next time for me will be a period of sorting out, assessing and harvesting what’s been growing inside. Like my mom at the stove, I’ll be working hard to preserve all of this bounty — in poems, blog posts, maybe even a book. Who knows. But, I’ll put up my own set of jewelled jars, full of potential and new horizons.

Your friend,


Aug 18, 2013 - Book Club, Poets, Resources    No Comments

Day 59: Jim Conlon’s Sacred Butterflies

Butterfly on flower

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Dear Pope Francis,

There’s a new book you might want to check out. It’s called “Sacred Butterflies: Poems, prayers and practices,” and is by Fr. James Conlon.

Jim serves as Director of the Sophia Center for Culture and Spirituality at Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif. He is also one of the keepers of the vision of Thomas Berry and the New Cosmology.

More than anyone else, I think, Jim embodies the New Cosmology. There are others who have done work on the New Cosmology, writing books and putting forth theories, but Jim lives it. Through his work at Sophia and in his writings, Jim keeps Thomas Berry’s concern and worry for the Earth community alive and present in the world. Jim would never admit to this, of course. He’d much rather fade into the background, doing the hard work, but not taking any credit. This is why Jim is so important to the New Cosmology. It’s all about the work and the vision, never himself. I call him the grinder of the New Cosmology.

Jim also has a true love for people. He sees the good in everyone, and the possibilities that can happen when people join together with a common purpose. That’s the whole point of Sophia; bringing seekers, activists, thinkers, and doers together in a way that is transformative, almost alchemical. As a graduate of the Sophia program, I can attest to the magic that happens in that space. Everyone is changed, and empowered to go forth into their part of the Great Work.

That’s what Jim does. He attracts people, draws them in, and then stands back to see what happens. Ask any Sophia student or graduate why they came to the program. Down to a person, their story will start with “Well, I met Jim…”

Jim’s keen sense of what people need to flourish and grow is evident in “Sacred Butterflies.” We live in a world where people have grown tired, even suspicious, of organized religion. Church attendance is down; “none” is becoming the most common answer when people are asked to name their religion.

And yet. And yet. The human need for practices that foster a connection to the Divine, however defined, has not gone away. As pews have emptied, yoga studios have filled. Everyone, it seems, is working on a meditation practice. People who run, swim, cycle, or lift weights often say they keep at it because of what they feel happens inside. Sure you can write it off as endorphins, or the need to look good in a swimsuit, but, personally, I think this is their spiritual practice.

Jim is writing for these folks. He’s seen first-hand that people need and want new ways of connecting with the Divine. We need new practices. They may take us to the same place, but the way we get there has to evolve.

“Sacred Butterflies” is written in three parts. The first is a series of beautiful poems. Inspired by Thomas Berry’s counsel that, when faced with what seems to be insurmountable problems, sometimes the best thing to do is to write a poem. And, so, Jim has written many poems about geo-justice, eco-spirituality, and the need for humans to find ways of co-existing with the rest of the Earth community.

The second part of “Sacred Butterflies” is a series of prayers. In the section’s introduction, Jim writes:

I believe prayer is largely about conscious self-awareness, about paying attention to the divine that is already present. In fact, prayer is more about
listening and responding than about formulating words. It opens us to epiphany moments in every aspect of our life and throughout all creation.

And Jim’s prayers do just that. They provide a window of awareness, a way of re-visioning our relationships with the Divine, each other, and nature.

Finally, the third section of “Sacred Butterflies” offers a series of spiritual practices. These are ways of connecting with the Divine that don’t take a person out of the daily rhythm of life, but offer, instead, ways of waking up to every moment. This is such a contrast to the “official” practices of organized religion, that see daily life as a distraction that endangers a connection with the Divine. Jim’s suggested spiritual practices are all about connecting with the every day reality of life. He writes about compassion, noticing beauty, and activism as spiritual practices. In this way, Jim’s book fits right in with what people today are seeking: simple ways of engaging with the Divine through every day life.

“Sacred Butterflies” is actually the third book in a trilogy that Jim has written over the past few years. The first book, “Beauty, Wonder and Belonging” takes the ancient practice of praying the Liturgy of the Hours and makes it more relevant for today’s world. In “Invisible Excursions,” Jim relates the story of his life against the background of social and religious upheaval and change over the past seven decades. It is one of the best books on the history of the New Cosmology that I’ve read.

So, there you have it, some good books to peruse, and a good companion to get to know in Jim Conlon.

Your friend,


(P.S. The links to Jim’s books go to an Amazon affiliate site and I’ll get a little bit of money if you buy them there.)


Aug 16, 2013 - Vatican    No Comments

Day 58: No, he didn’t listen

Dear Pope Francis,

So, Archbishop Sartain spoke to the LCWR today. After meeting with representatives yesterday. Did he listen?

Well, if his sermon today at a Mass for the LCWR delegates was any indication, I’d say no.

It’s long past when male leaders in the Church should invoke Mary as a symbol for women and point out her submissiveness. It’s wrong. And I’m tired of it. It does a disservice to women, and Mary.

It’s time for new language and new images for women in the Church.

Your friend,


Aug 16, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Day 57: LCWR annual meeting

Dear Pope Francis,

One of my favorite theologians, Ilia Delio, addressed the annual meeting of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) as their keynote speaker. I think her talk was profound.

It’s also interesting that the bishop charged with the Vatican-mandated “reform” of the LCWR is attending this year. I hope he listened closely to Ilia Delio. And also that he truly listens to the women religious.

As I noted in a piece I wrote last year for the National Catholic Reporter, this situation needs true dialogue. It seems the sisters are willing. I hope you are too.

(To be honest, I think it’s Cardinal Dolan and those like him who could do with a little oversight, not the sisters. But that’s just me.)

Your friend,


Aug 13, 2013 - New Cosmology    No Comments

Day 56: Why I care about cosmology

Dear Pope Francis,

Even if you’ve read all 56 posts to date, you might wonder why I care so much about cosmology and, in particular, the implications for religion and spirituality when we consider the entire 13.8 billion year history of the Universe into account.

Maybe Carl Sagan can explain it better:

“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Your friend,


Day 55: Stardust

Dear Pope Francis,

A quote today from Neil deGrasse Tyson. (And, yes, I know he’s an atheist. But, he has a good point to make.)

“So you’re made of detritus [from exploded stars]. Get over it. Or better yet, celebrate it. After all, what nobler thought can one cherish than that the universe lives within us all?”
― Neil deGrasse Tyson, Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries

Your friend,