Browsing "New Cosmology"
Sep 2, 2014 - New Cosmology    1 Comment

What is Your Great Work?

A potter at work

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Dear Pope Francis,

I spent a good part of this past summer re-reading “The Great Work” by Thomas Berry. Berry was a Catholic priest who argued that we humans must stop thinking of ourselves as the top of the heap when it comes to all the other beings with whom we share our one precious planet. In Berry’s mind, only by truly seeing ourselves in the context of the long, long history of the Universe and how we co-exist with the rest of creation can we humans begin to bring ourselves into right relationship with the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants.

It’s bringing about that shift into right relationship that Thomas Berry believed was the true mission of those of us alive right now, in this particular moment in the history of our planet. He called this the Great Work, and devoted an entire book to the topic. In one passage I keep re-reading, Berry says that each of us was “chosen by some power beyond ourselves” for the task of the Great Work. Says Berry, “We are, as it were, thrown into existence with a challenge and a role that is beyond any personal choice. The nobility of our lives, however, depends on the manner in which we come to understand and fulfill our assigned role.”

I suppose this could be read as Berry saying each of us was born with an assigned task and we must, mechanistically, carry it out absent any free will. Having read more of his writing, however, I don’t think that’s what he means. What I get from this passage is that, at this time in our history where there is so much evidence of the ecological imbalance we humans have caused on this planet, we have a chance to wake up and move things in a new direction.

I think Berry is saying that each of us brought into this world with us unique gifts that, at this particular moment in time, are crucial to putting all of humanity in a better relationship with the rest of creation. Maybe someone has an aptitude for science and can study the shifting climate and predict what that means. Perhaps others are good communicators and can translate complex science into language everyone understands. Artists make us see our daily reality in new ways, inspiring action. Farmers, cooks, caregivers, parents, healers, fixers — they keep everything from breaking down. Spiritual guides remind us to square our lives with something greater than ourselves in how we live out each moment.

It’s hard to see a way out of the pain of this world sometimes. What can one person do? Well, that one person can’t do everything — but his or her gifts are perfectly suited to doing some things very well. This is where each of us can help. By pulling together, each in our own unique way, we can effect great change.

This is what I think Thomas Berry meant. He’s asking each of us to consider one question: What is my Great Work? Figure that out, and you have your assignment. Answer that question, and you can help save the world.

Your friend,



Some recent writing

Dear Pope Francis,

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve written to you. Life has a funny way of, well, happening. But, I have been writing and publishing in other places. Here are links to a couple of recent pieces by me.

Hope you enjoy.

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,


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 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,

Day 17: Drew Dellinger

Dear Pope Francis,

I had the day off today and it was really nice. I got some errands done, read, did some tinkering on the behind-the-scenes of the blog, and even went to a local farmer’s market.

Which is to say I was busy relaxing, and not writing.

Thankfully, I have another writer’s work to share with you. Drew Dellinger is a poet and activist from the San Francisco Bay Area. I love his work. His poems are best appreciated when spoken aloud. So, here’s Drew with one of his most well-known pieces.

Hope you enjoyed that.

Your friend,