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My Year in California — Radio interview

Dear Pope Francis,

My friend Ingrid Hart was interviewed yesterday on a syndicated radio show (scroll down the page to the “Year in Ca author” segment and click the “download” or “stream” button)about her book My Year in California . I’ve written about this book before. I’m so pleased for my friend Ingrid. She worked so hard on this project, and it is a wonderful read. I suggest you pick it up. The photographs, alone, are simply breathtaking.

Hope you don’t mind the sharing I’ve done the past couple of days of others’ work. I just think that highlighting the work of others is such a great way to showcase different pathways to the Divine.

Your friend,


The Gratitude Squirrel!

Dear Pope Francis,

I started off today a bit grumbly, feeling a bit sorry for myself, and generally kind of miserable. It was Monday morning. My weekend, as usual, didn’t seem nearly long enough. I was back at work.

As I downed coffee to try and kick-start my energy, I was poking around Google when I discovered this:

The Gratitude Squirrel


The photo accompanied this article.

I laughed. So hard I snorted coffee out my nose. It was just what I needed to cause a shift in my day.

I’ve decided to call this little guy the Gratitude Squirrel. I think he’ll be a bit of totem for me from now on, especially on grumpy days.

Your friend,



Oct 10, 2013 - Kind of Random, Resources    1 Comment

Letting my loyal soldier rest


Dear Pope Francis,

During my Masters program at  Sophia, I did some boundary-pushing things. I drummed and chanted with Afia Walking Tree. I practiced tai chi. I danced in a library courtyard. I read something I’d just written with Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows looking on (along with about 80 or so complete strangers).

But I think the most challenging thing I did at Sophia was during a weekend with Bill Plotkin. During our Saturday morning session, Plotkin talked about the need to fall in love with the world. He said that only by coming to love the world can you start to find your soul. Plotkin has a slightly different definition for soul than what some might be used to. For him, soul is an individual’s ultimate place in the world, their offering to the rest of creation. We’re all called to find our soul, says Plotkin, and that journey always involves a descent.

Before the descent, says Plotkin, we go through other initial stages. There’s the Wanderer, for example, where we go out into the world, searching for who we are. Part of that search, if I understood Plotkin correctly, involves coming to love the world.

In the spirit of that, Plotkin gave us an exercise: we were to go outside and allow ourselves to be led to any non-human part of creation. Then, we were to praise that non-human part of creation, as if we were speaking to a person. We were to do this out loud, emphatically and authentically. With a warning about watching for ticks and other natural hazards, Plotkin set us loose.

When I heard this, I looked around at the rest of the room. To my eye, everyone seemed not only fine with this, but absolutely ecstatic. Me? Not so much.

I’m so not doing this, I said to myself. Seriously? Go talk to a rock? Praise a rock? Did I actually pay for this?

This was my internal dialogue as I walked towards the door. To be honest, I dragged my feet a bit, both mentally and physically. I just could not fathom doing this. And, what if someone saw me?

But as I crossed the threshold of the door, I steadied myself. I was here to experience new things, wasn’t I? I was here to figure out new ways of seeing the world, seeing myself. If one of those ways involved losing touch with reality for 20 minutes and talking to rocks, fine. I’d give it a try. But nobody should expect me to enjoy it.

I emerged from the building onto a balcony of sorts that overlooks the rest of the Holy Names University campus, which is perched on the side of the Oakland Hills. And, right away, I was hit by gust of wind that brought me up short. I stopped, turned my face into the breeze, and inhaled.

I’ve always loved wind. I need moving air around me. When we shared a car, my sister used to always complain about being buffeted by the fan when she started it up. I always left the fan on full blast, with all the vents pointing at me. Still do, in my own car. When I fly, the fresh air vent is always cranked up full. The worst part of any flight for me is when the pilot shuts everything down, including ventilation, for a few brief moments when the plane pushes back from the gate. The wait for air to flow again always seems interminable.

Plotkin had said to let ourselves be guided to a non-human part of creation. I wasn’t just guided to mine; it smacked me in the face. A gentle smack, but a smack nonetheless. So, I faced into the wind and gave it praise and thanks.

And I didn’t feel the least bit goofy while I did it. It felt, pardon the pun, natural.

After awhile the wind let me go and roam, and I praised a few more non-human entities: a tree, the ground, grass, a Bird of Paradise. Then, as our time was coming to an end, I went back and praised the wind.

In addition to teaching me about the knowledge that can come by engaging in a conversation with creation, Plotkin’s exercise brought up something about myself as well. The main reason that I really didn’t want to do his exercise at first was not because I thought it wouldn’t be useful. No, I was worried about being seen doing it. I was worried about sticking out and looking odd. The fact that there would be about 30 other people doing the same thing all around me didn’t matter. I would stick out. I would look funny. I would be exposed.

In his book Soulcraft, Plotkin talks about some of the barriers to finding your soul. One of them he calls the Loyal Soldier. This is a part of our psychological make-up that was formed to protect us. He likens it to those Japanese soldiers from WWII who hid in dense forests and emerged, decades later, thinking the war was still on and ready to take up arms to defend their country. The Japanese did a smart thing with these men, says Plotkin. They welcomed them home, thanked them for their service, and told them they could now rest as the fighting was done. Handled this way, the soldiers were much more willing to accept that the world had changed while they were in hiding.

The psychological Loyal Soldier, says Plotkin, defends us against perceived threats. It leaps up, shield in hand, to provide mental protection. This is all well and good when we’re growing up and might need a little sheltering to get through the trials of youth. The problem, says Plotkin, is that the Loyal Soldier will remain on alert long after it should have retired to a quiet life with a little garden. What this means is we continue to view experiences for growth, that will prepare us to transition to another stage of life, as battles to be fought rather than opportunities to learn.

In my case, my Loyal Soldier is particularly attuned to situations in which I’m going to be exposed. I was teased a lot as a kid. I was smart. I was overweight. My Loyal Soldier got good at protecting me from this, and, he did his job well. I survived. But, in adulthood, his leaping to my defense gets a bit problematic. He sees every situation where I’m likely to look a little odd or provoke any kind of ridicule — even if it’s only from inside my head — as a call to action. He rises in his rusty mail, pulls his sword from its cobwebbed scabbard, and rushes in.

In Soulcraft, Plotkin offers a way of gently retiring your Loyal Soldier. You praise them. You thank them for their service. And then you point out that the threat has passed, the war was won long ago, and, really, wouldn’t a life of leisure be more inviting right now? Maybe the Loyal Soldier should take up stamp collecting or take that bus trip through Europe (skipping the battlefields and military graveyards, perhaps)? I’m giving my own spin to Plotkin here, but you get the idea. Slowly, the Loyal Soldier will catch on and realize peace as broken out and leave you to carry on.

So, since our weekend with Bill Plotkin, this has been one of my tasks. I’ve kept an eye on my Loyal Soldier, listening for the clank of armour that signals he’s about to intervene on my behalf. I assess the situation and give him the all clear. Sometimes he still springs into action, but it’s easier for me to back him off as time goes by. Hopefully I’ll soon be able to encourage him to move into that seaside cottage I’ve bought for him.

What about you, Pope Francis? What’s getting in the way of your being able to live out what you were put into this universe to do (other than the Curia)? What’s your own Loyal Soldier doing? What conversations can you have with him or her to convince them the war is over and they can be at peace?

Your friend,


(Photo credit: ppdigitalLicense)

(Note: If you buy a book via a link in my blog post, I get a little bit of money from Amazon. Full disclosure. But, it helps with little things like hosting, etc…)

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

Day 59: Jim Conlon’s Sacred Butterflies

Butterfly on flower

Photo credit:

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 8, 2013 - Resources    No Comments

Day 51: Paula D’Arcy

Dear Pope Francis,

One of the highlights of the recent Sophia Summer Institute was that I met Paula D’Arcy. She was speaking during the Institute and stayed for much of it.

I had already been looking forward to hearing her speak. It was so wonderful to meet her in person.

I’d recommend reading her books. Gift of the Red Bird: The Story of a Divine Encounter
“>This is one of her first, and is very powerful. Check it out.

Paula also started the Red Bird Foundation, which supports her work.

Your friend,


(P.S. that is an affiliate link so if you buy the book I get a little bit of money.)

Jul 24, 2013 - Poets, Resources    No Comments

Day 36: Some David Whyte

Dear Pope Francis,

I was traveling today, so not a lot of time to write. But just wanted to give you some David White to ponder.

Everything is Waiting for You

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

  — David Whyte
      from Everything is Waiting for You
     ©2003 Many Rivers Press

Until tomorrow.

Your friend,


Jul 12, 2013 - Poets, Resources    No Comments

Day 24: Two of my favorite people in one post!

Dear Pope Francis,

A treat today. Poet Drew Dellinger writing about Thomas Berry. So much awesome for one blog post.

Carolina Prophet: Poem for Thomas Berry
By Drew Dellinger

we were dreamed
in the cores
of the stars.
like the stars,
we were meant to unfold

we were dreamed in the depths
of the undulating ocean.
like the waves,
we were meant to unfold

like bursting supernovas, birthing elements,
which crucibles give rise to creativity?

the world makes us
its instrument.

Father Thomas,
speaking for stars, in a voice
old as wind: ‘origin moments
are supremely important’

what are the origins
of a prophet?

found in syllables of Sanskrit,
or Chinese characters?
in a decade of midnight prayer?

in childhood epiphanies
rising like heat?

blue Carolina sky;
dark pines;
on the lilies,
in the meadow,
across the creek.

born in Carolina
on the eve of the Great War,
Saturn conjoining Pluto in the sky.
raised in a world of wires and wheels,
watching dirt roads turn to pavement.

brooding intensity,
measuring loss
when others could see only progress.

white hair communing with angels of Earth

Father Thomas, reminding us
we are constantly bathed in shimmering memories
of originating radiance

we are constantly bathed in shimmering memories
of originating radiance

the psychic stars:
the conscious soil:

this thin film of atmosphere;

and only gravity
holding the sea from the stars.

when a vision of the universe takes hold
in your mind, your soul becomes vast as the cosmos.

when the mind is silent,
everything is sacred.

like the spiral
like the lotus
like the waves
like the trees
like the stars,

we were meant to unfold.

Hope you enjoyed. If you like Drew’s poetry, you should really buy his book.

Your friend,


Jul 11, 2013 - Poets, Resources    No Comments

Day 23: Bet you thought I’d missed a day

Dear Pope Francis,

It’s been a pretty busy day — but I didn’t forget to write you. Just getting to it a bit late, right before I go to bed.

I thought this poem by David Whyte was fitting.

What to Remember
When Waking.

What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.

What you can live
will makes plans
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.

To be human
is to become visible
while carrying
what is hidden
as a gift to others.

To remember
the other world
in this world
is to live in your
true inheritance.

Excerpt from ‘What to Remember When Waking’
From River Flow: New and Selected Poems
Many Rivers Press. ©David Whyte

Good night, Pope Francis.

Your friend,