Browsing "My Poetry"

We are all called: Responding to unspeakable violence

A heart shaped out of flames

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Dear Pope Francis,

It has been a week marked by grief and sadness in Canada, the country where I live. In just one week we had two incidents where troubled individuals acted out in violence, taking the lives of two of our military. One attacked the seat of our federal government itself, Parliament Hill, in Ottawa. Since both attacks I have been grappling with how to respond. Grief and sadness can so easily lead to fear and anger.

Yet,  acting out of fear and anger may not be the best way to respond to unspeakable acts of evil. As with much in this life, I think the answer lies in mystery, in paradox. For, I think grief and sadness should motivate us to act out of love and openness, rather than shutting down and closing off in anger and fear. It’s not easy to do. I don’t even know if I’m capable of that.

I wrote the following poem as a way of working this out.


We Are All Called

By Kevin Aschenbrenner


We are all called.

We are all called.

In these nervous, anxious times

when fear and anger seem to be

our only options.

We are all called

to show up in the world

clothed in compassion and peace.


This is not easy,

and might seem like giving up,

giving in,

or even weak.

It might seem better, even sensible,

to choose fear and anger.

We’re protecting ourselves,

we could say.

We will not be intimidated,

we could say.


We could choose to fear the thoughts of others

before they even have them.

Or even act on them.

We can fear them just for thinking

thoughts we don’t like.


We could turn away from the troubled,

when they cry out for help

in ways we don’t understand,

thinking they’re not worth our time

or money,

especially our money,

and then react in disbelief and anger

when the troubled return our disinterest with violence,

the only way, it seems

to get us to listen.




We could realize

that we are all called.

We are all called

to be in the world

and see it for what it is

and not what we’d like it

or fear it

to be.

We are called to see the pain.

We are called to use our creativity

and put our heads and hearts together

to dream up better answers;

Because the ones we have now

are not life-giving

but life-taking.


We are called not to strike out in violence,

but pull in,

with embraces.


We are all called.

We are all called.

To show up in this world,

clothed in compassion and peace.


Please pray for us, Pope Francis, that we might respond with open hearts to a troubled world.

Your friend,


Why Jesus should sue for trademark infringement

Jesus Facepalm

Dear Pope Francis —

If Jesus had a legal team — and, he probably wouldn’t, given his “turn the other cheek” philosophy, but let’s just assume he did — I think they would be hurriedly drafting cease-and-desist orders against many, many folks for infringing on his trademark. That law office would be churning out paperwork 24/7.

Individuals, companies and organizations trademark names and logos to ensure they are not used by others in a way that would cause either a negative impression or confusion in the marketplace. Using a protected name or logo in a way that dilutes the real owner’s brand is called trademark infringement. In other words, I can’t put computers together with spare parts lying around my house, slap a sticker of an apple with a bite out of it on them, and sell them as Macs. For one, they’re unlikely to work like a Mac. For another, they’re not a true representation of the company’s product.

There is a lot of brand dilution going on out there when it comes to Jesus. Many people claim to be acting in his name, but they likely aren’t his licensed representatives. Or, they haven’t looked at the terms of their licensing contract in a long, long while. If they did, they would find themselves in serious breach of Jesus’ trademark rights.

A few top contenders:

1) The Arizona and Kansas state legislatures. Both of these legislative bodies have recently either contemplated or passed laws that would legalize discrimination against LGBT individuals. (The Catholic Church in Kansas supported that state’s law.) The laws stipulate that businesses have a right, on religious (i.e. Christian) grounds, to refuse service to individuals if doing so would compromise the business owner’s values. This is being done, so lawmakers say, in the spirit of religious freedom. I’m not sure what Bible these folks are reading, but Jesus served everyone during his life. He didn’t care who they were, he treated them all equally and with dignity. Encouraging discrimination in Jesus’ name is definitely trademark infringement.

2) Archbishop Myers of New Jersey. I have nothing against providing a comfortable retirement for clergy. Many of them spend their entire lives in service to the Catholic community. However, comfortable should not mean extravagant, especially when so many of our seniors live in poverty. Jesus’ original followers essentially traveled with a pair of sandals and the clothes on their backs. I’m not sure any of them had a mansion with two pools waiting for them when they retired from spreading the Gospel. I don’t think they would have secluded themselves away from the community they’d served, either. This is certainly a breach of Jesus’ trademark license that anyone who purports to serve him should be following.

3) “Christian” politicians who cut aid to the poor. Many of the politicians decrying aid to the poor as a drain on the economy and government self-identify as Christian. I don’t think I need to add anything else to this. It speaks for itself.

4) Clergy who deny sacraments to people they don’t approve of. Whether it’s politicians who have Pro-Choice voting records, or LGBT individuals denied communion or last rites, sacraments should not be used as weapons. You, Pope Francis, have even spoken out against this practice. Jesus ministered to everyone and welcomed everyone into his embrace. That compassionate welcoming was the first sacrament. Why are we not following this example?

I realize that calling out these examples might be just as judgmental and wrong as those who paint others as bad Christians or bad Catholics. That’s fair. However, I think there is a real danger in this Jesus brand dilution. Jesus said “By their fruits you will recognize them.” I don’t think these folks are bad people. I just think they have a misguided view of what Jesus stood for. That might be fine if their views did not affect others, but they do. And, their actions reflect back on all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus. This is why I find such examples so distressing. I encounter many people who discount — even despise — Christians because these are the examples they see. These “fruits” stand in for all of us, and that’s what upsets me.

This is one of the reasons I’m so grateful for you, Pope Francis. Your focus on the poor as well as compassion puts you in much closer alignment, in my view, with Jesus than many, many of your predecessors.

I think it’s time for all of us to have a closer look at Jesus’ trademark — and make sure we’re not infringing.

(By the way, I wrote a poem about this.)

Your friend,


To Know the Name of God


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Dear Pope Francis,

I haven’t written poetry for awhile. But, tonight, I was silent for a time, present to the Divine. And this is what bubbled up.

Your friend,



To Know the Name of God
by Kevin Aschenbrenner

I’d like to know your name, God.
Your true name.
Not what we’ve called You,
down the millennia.
Names that, at best, never truly fit
or conveyed all that You are.
Or, at worst,
names wielded as weapons,
of power, and prestige,
subjugation, oppression, and exclusion,
by those who claimed to know Your will,
but didn’t,
and never could.

In truth, I’d like to know your name,
oh God,
if only
to prove to others
for having these feelings,
these knowings,
these soft murmurings,
in my deepest deep,
that I know
but that I can’t explain,
as much as I try.

It would make things so much easier
for me
if you could just tell me Your name.
What should I call you
in the middle of the night,
when worries press and sleep eludes,
so I know
I’m addressing
and not
ceiling fan?
(Which, though, perfectly useful,
is not of much emotional support).

Whisper Your name to me,
I can be trusted.
I’ll keep your secret.
It will be enough
to have heard it just once,
and to know,
it exists.
I would form it silently on my lips,
imagining how it would feel,
to have Your true name
flow through my mouth
out into the world,
a solid thing,
as all words are,
once spoken.
That would be enough.

Or would it?
For, even as I write that
I understand,
that to know Your name,
Your true name,
would be like biting
that fruit
all over again.
Worse, even.
For, should I give in to temptation and speak it,
(which, let’s face it, I would)
I’d not only know too much,
I’d know everything.
In one breath, I’d know You,
and hold
what a child of the cosmos
like me
was never
For if speaking your almost-names, God,
can wreak such havoc,
what would Your true name do?
I cannot be trusted with that.

No, it is better to not know
Your true name,
For I think I understand, now,
why we are not meant
to name You.
For You are not a fixed point that can be penned in by mere words,
You are force and movement,
like gravity,
like love,
sweeping through me,
always present,
when I call out in the night,
or laugh during the day.

You are the Unnamed One
surpassing all names.





Aug 7, 2013 - My Poetry    No Comments

Day 50: Creativity

Dear Pope Francis,

Fifty posts! I can’t believe I’ve sustained the blog this long. It’s been a great experience so far. Hopefully you’re enjoying it too.

I find writing this blog to be a valuable spiritual practice. Writing, for me, is a form of prayer. It allows me to touch the Divine. And, when I’m not tapping into creativity, I feel out of sorts, out of touch. Writing grounds me in the Source of all things.

Here’s a poem I wrote on creativity, and, specifically, about when I forget to write or get distracted by things that don’t matter.

by Kevin Aschenbrenner

I wonder if you watch
a spiderweb long enough
you can see
the exact moment when it changes
when it forgets itself
and becomes a cobweb  

Can you see that point?
When it shifts from a work of dangerous beauty,
And becomes a sticky annoyance,
Harbinger of decay,
Empty of creativity,
A tool for the horror movie director, Signalling something creepy this way comes.  

Is it exactly when the spider leaves or dies that the cobweb form takes over?
Or does the web linger on
for a bit
in a kind of gossamer limbo of the still-possible
escaping re-definition
for as long as it can?  

Is there a point where its transformation could be redirected
Shifted towards creativity, rather than decay Could it be reminded of its purpose and its gift
A nanosecond before it gives up
So that it springs taut, once again
Ready to ensnare and sustain,
Maybe even attracting a new arachnid resident,
to take over where the other left off?  

I want to know that point,
so I can see it in my own life
and catch myself when I’m drifting
towards my own cobwebby-ness
Into a less-than-me existence,
where I forget myself,
and get pulled apart and tattered
by things that aren’t important.  

If I could see that moment,
I could hold my shape,
Maintain a home for my own spider of creativity,
So that we both waft on the breeze of the Divine
Catching inspiration.
Sustaining each other.

What about you, Pope Francis? What creative practices sustain you? I’d like to know.

Your friend,


Jul 30, 2013 - My Poetry, New Cosmology    No Comments

Day 42: A prayer to Thomas Berry

Dear Pope Francis,

I’m still pondering what you said today. Not sure I can write about it yet. I’m more inclined to reflect for a bit. I don’t want to rush to conclusions, as the media is happy to do.

Instead, I’d like to bring the focus back to where it belongs. On Earth, and the changes we are all feeling and seeing, but may want to ignore. This deserves our undivided attention. Because, once we understand our place in the Universe, and the precarious and precious place we occupy, it’s impossible to not see all other humans from the perspective of justice.

So, I give you this poem.

A Prayer to Thomas Berry
By Kevin Aschenbrenner   

Dear Thomas

What would you think of us,
that we’ve done the unthinkable,
let carbon fill our atmosphere,
to the brim, full to overflowing,
We’ve reached the point where there be dragons,
and all fallen over the edge.  

I think you knew this point would come.
You named it.
The Ecozoic Era,
you called it.
A whole new geological age
where we get to see
exactly what we’ve done
in front of all the Earth community.  

There is no going back from here.
You knew this.
Will our children even have meadow moments?
Times when nature caught their imaginations?
Clean air to breathe?
Fresh water to drink?
Reliable food?
Predictable weather?
Ah Thomas, sometimes I think about what may come and despair.
There seems little for one as small as me to do.  

And yet.
While you wrote about the changes to come,
you gave hope,
that we humans were not beyond redemption.
If we woke up and dug in we could do something.
The Great Work, you called it.
Our answer to Earth’s call at this precarious point in Her history.
That work would give us somewhere to stand,
a place to begin,
a task to undertake,
in the face of unrelenting bad news.  

And, so, Thomas,
as I begin my own Great Work,
my own small effort
I ask that we be cosmic companions and that,
from the wind and water and rock where you now reside,
part of the great Earth communion,
lend me some wisdom,
so I might walk the path I’m meant to walk, an ecozoic pilgrim
who refuses to give up hope.

Your friend,

Jul 25, 2013 - My Poetry, Uncategorized    No Comments

A Poem About Grace (Day 37)

Dear Pope Francis,

I wrote about grace the other day and today thought I’d share this poem of mine. Hope you enjoy.

When Grace Sneaks Up on You
By Kevin Aschenbrenner

Grace is always unexpected.
It arrives, out of the blue,
Like a crime novel plot twist
You don’t see coming
And it takes your breath away
Opens up new ways of seeing
What you thought was reality.

Grace is always unearned.
There’s no magic formula
No specific ritual
To bring Grace to your side.
You never deserve it,
Most often the opposite is true.
That’s why it’s Grace.

For if we could summon Grace,
We wouldn’t need it.
If we deserved Grace,
It would have no purpose.
If we could see Grace coming,
Predict its course and ETA,
Its arrival would be moot.

Grace comes just because we’re human,
That paradoxical mix of body and Divine.
Grace sneaks up when we’re mired in shadow,
Suffering from a case of soul hiccups,
Acting without thinking, letting our ego cloud our vision.
Grace arrives to startle us,
And shock us into presence.

I hope you are enjoying Rio.

Your friend,


Jul 21, 2013 - My Poetry, New Cosmology    1 Comment

Day 34: The God I know

Dear Pope Francis,

I’m reading this poem today at the closing liturgy of the 2013 Sophia Summer Institute. It has been a great few days hanging out with the likes of Barbara Holmes, Brian Swimme, Mary Evelyn Tucker, David Abram, Paula D’Arcy and Thomas Moore. I’m truly inspired and spirit-filled.

It’s also an incredible honor to be reading at the closing liturgy, which is called Missa Gaia. Two years ago I attended my first Summer Institute and participated in that liturgy, and was awe-struck. And today I get to be a part of it. I’m truly blessed an incredibly honored.

Here is the poem I’ll be reading.

The God I Know

by Kevin Aschenbrenner


I wish I had a way to tell you about the God I know.

A God who watches the Super Bowl

Waving a foam finger

Rooting for everyone

And no one.

(OK, God secretly pulls for the lone, improbable buttercup bravely pushing its way up at mid-field,

and hopes the clashing gladiators above give that flower the space it deserves as an equal in creation.)


I wish I had words to describe the God I know.

A God who doesn’t vote,

or care about party affiliation,

and is neither liberal, nor conservative,

nor even centrist.

Because God created the best non-political system,

a great creatocracy

And God’s only slogan is:

Respect everything I created,

even what you don’t like,

or think has value,

or disagrees with you,

or disgusts you.

Take care of it all.

(In God’s eyes, pond scum is just as glorious as diamonds.)


I wish I had the chance to tell you about the God I know.

A God who geeks out over science

gapes at supernovae.

Has witnessed the unfolding of evolution — first-hand.

A God who delights in the antics of an atom,

and the leaping of a cricket.

This is a God of deep time and matter made of exploding stars,

A God waiting, breathless,

For what comes next.


I so wish you could know this God

when I see you write off the existence of the Divine

based on the inaccurate descriptions of others.

Those accounts,

like a cosmic game of telephone,

get things muddled,

and are more about the human communicator

than a Divine Creator.

I don’t really blame you.

God has a lot of bad spokespeople,

working on their own agendas,

staying on their own message,

spinning words that serve themselves,

and rarely the Divine.


You’re right to say God doesn’t exist.

He doesn’t. That God.

The judgmental old man in the sky,

sitting above and apart,

deciding who suffers, who dies, and who thrives.

It’s OK to say that God doesn’t exist.

I don’t think he does either.


I just wish I could clear away the word cloud about that God,

the misinformation and miscommunication,

the really, really bad PR.

I’d take a fan and blow that fog of not-God words away.

Leaving not emptiness,

but the all-encompassing fullness of truth,

that can’t be compressed

into vowels and consonants

that just aren’t equipped to convey

the everything that is the really real.


But maybe, if we sat long enough

in that silence,


just waiting,

a contemplative dance

of word and truth

would begin.

And we could talk about the Divine

maybe not completely,

but at least more accurately,

based on deep experience,

using better words,

formed in cooperation,


and mutual understanding.


And God would do

a slow soft-shoe

around us,

fist-bumping the sky,

in joy at our much-anticipated arrival.


Hope you have a blessed Sunday.

Your friend,


Day 32: Cosmology as story

Dear Pope Francis,

I’ve written here about the New Cosmology. Cosmology is an odd word. It sounds scientific or something a philosopher would say. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it sometimes.

But, cosmology is essentially the story we tell ourselves about how we came to be in this world, and how it was created. The power of cosmology comes from the fact that it uses story. Stories are how we relate to the world. They can also be changed or manipilated. They can include or exclude. They have a perspective.

What those working in the New Cosmology are doing is trying to create an inclusive story of creation. Its not easy, but it’s important that we keep trying.

Here’s a poem I wrote about story.

Tell Me a Story
By Kevin Aschenbrenner

Tell me a story


don’t hold back.

I want all the gory details

nothing’s off limits.

Feel free to embellish

a little

It’s your story, after all

Yours for the telling.

Mine for the listening.

Teach me patience with your story.

Invite me




Stop my whirring brain,

the internal monologue,

the impulse to formulate a reply.

Lead me with your story

to a place where I’m not the centre

of all things.

Where focus shifts outside myself.

To you.

Drop new lenses onto the bridge of my nose

and sharpen my gaze.

Help me with your story

to learn to look past the surface

for the context

and understand that

all that was


and will be

is in your telling.

Turn me, with your story

to face the universe

and see my place

inside of creation.

Equal but unique.

Small but unfolding.

Inspired by the divine in all thing

May your day be full of stories, Pope Francis.

Your friend,

Jul 18, 2013 - My Poetry    No Comments

Day 31: Watch your language

Dear Pope Francis,

Yesterday’s post on the Vatican Twitter indulgence story reminded me of a poem I wrote awhile ago. It was just after I’d begun my studies at the Sophia Center, and I was struggling with not having the language to describe what I was learning. The New Story brought so many, well, new concepts into play in terms of how I understood the Divine, but I lacked the language to discuss them. My “old” words did not seem capable of conveying all of this new meaning. I felt I was fumbling for words.

So, I wrote this poem. I hope you enjoy.


Forgive Me as I Fumble My Words

by Kevin Aschenbrenner


Forgive me




my words.

At thirty-nine, I’m learning to speak


Words I thought

I already



God. Father. King. Religion. Heaven. Hell. Saint. Sinner. Scripture. Jesus. Good. Evil.

These used to be solid, dependable, pronounceable words.

Rolling off my tongue, automatic, thoughtlessly.

I was fluent in that language. Knew its rules.

Learned the conjugations long ago.

Could be understood within my closed tribe.


But these words no longer fit

in my mouth.

Like a favorite food that once made me sick,

and since then I can’t stomach,

to me they now bring nausea

a puckering of the lips

gorge in the throat

warding motions of the hands

grave unease.


And I know why.


These are baggaged words.

They come burdened with meaning

accreted through millennia of misuse



They are barnacled over, sharp.

They wound me now,

when they pass through my throat,

leaving jagged cuts along my tongue and gums.

They wound others who hear them, too.

They alienate, drive off,





I no longer want to pay the baggage fees for these words.

Their cost is prohibitive.

I want to unpack that ugly luggage

smelling of unwashed clothes

too long kept from the fresh air

and let the truth out

to run free again in the world.

As it was always meant to.


For that is what our spirits need.

A good airing out.

Time to shake themselves loose.

Mix with fresh air, and ideas.

Let the wind in to plump them up

Like new pillows

So they may support us in these nervy times

When we all need a soft, safe refuge to collapse upon

To rest, renew, and rise again.


And I will resist temptation to clothe truth too quickly

in binding words.

To end the uncertainty

and placate my anxiety with forced enclosure.

For I know what starts as a flowing linen robe

May soon, if we’re not careful

Become a corset

Or a constricting collar with a perfectly-knotted tie

Making truth becoming to look at

for some

but left scratching at its throat, straining its torso

panicked and unable to breathe.


I will not fear that without those old words

those old bindings

that what lay obscured at their core

is gone.

Truth persists.

It travels well and remains undamaged,

no matter how poor the packaging

or negligent the handling

It bounces back.

Arrives fresh, ripe, unspoiled.

You just have to know it needs peeling

before you can bite in

and let its juice dribble into your soul.


So, forgive me

as I



my words.

I am frustrated, too

that I can’t make myself


as easily

as before.

And this spiritual aphasia may persist

for a good



So if my words come slowly


and ill-fitting

bear with me.

I’m using new vowels and consonants

to build an airy, boundless, transparent net

To both carry truth

and let it breathe.


Jul 8, 2013 - My Poetry    No Comments

Day 21: Poem: For what else was God to do?

Dear Pope Francis,

A poem bubbled up out of the ether for me today, so I thought I’d share.


For What Else Was God to Do?

by Kevin Aschenbrenner

I wonder if,

when God decided to send Jesus into the world,

it wasn’t without some slight hesitation.

As the day approached,

did God bounce from foot to foot,

like an anxious parent

sending a first child off to Kindergarten?

Did God hesitate, for just a minute,

wanting to grab the tag on the back of Jesus’ shirt,

and pull Him into an encompassing embrace,

never to let go?


I see God preparing for that day,

on one level, a reassuring presence for Jesus,

telling him how great it would be to walk among his human brothers and sisters,

and, on another level,

freaked right out at the idea of what those humans would do

when they got their hands on Jesus.


For God knew humans,

had created them,

basked in their gifts

their capacity for joy, and love and tenderness.

But God is a realist,

sees the whole picture,

and so must have known,

or at least suspected,

that things might not end so well.


And yet, like any parent who wants their child to be in the world,

bringing the gift only they can bring,

God let Jesus go,

sent Him out to be human, and among humans.


And God saw Jesus born as a human child,

and grow into the adult, who began His work.

God saw Jesus laugh, and weep, and sigh.

Saw His frustration when even those closest to him wouldn’t understand what he had to say.

When Jesus realized what had to be done

for His words to become flesh, His message a mission,

for His time on Earth to count for something

he made His choice.

And God saw. And God let go. And God wept.

For what else was God to do?


Hope you’re having a good Monday, Pope Francis.

Your friend,