Browsing "The Work of the Divine"

We are all called: Responding to unspeakable violence

A heart shaped out of flames

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/mantasmagorical

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.

 

Or.

Or.

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,

Kevin

Gratefully overwhelmed

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/Prawny

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/Prawny

Dear Pope Francis,

Well, if you ever want to see a spike in blog traffic, write about falling in with Anglicans. I am so happily overwhelmed with the response to that post. As of today, it’s had 3300 views and people have left some really amazing and thoughtful comments that I very much appreciate. It was even shared on Reddit. It seems many folks resonated with what I expressed in that post.

Honestly, I did not expect such a response. I felt like getting my thoughts on attending an Anglican parish onto the blog, and so I sat down and wrote. I never imagined it would be shared so widely. I’m truly grateful to everyone who read it and passed it on.

If I’ve learned anything from the response to the post is that there’s a restlessness among many Catholics and a desire to see a church that reflects a living embodiment of our faith. Many people have also expressed a desire to see the walls come down between faith communities and, ultimately, around the Divine. There are so many rules that do more to keep people from fully experiencing a living, loving God rather than bringing them into a closer relationship with the Beloved. Catholic, by definition, means universal, and I think we’ve been falling short of that name for quite awhile.

I’m excited by the dialogue created around my post, especially the interfaith response. I think it’s a sign that we’re on our way to something new, something big, as we all grow in our understanding of the Divine Mystery. I, for one, can’t wait to see what evolves.

Your friend,

Kevin

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.

http://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/blogs/spiritually-speaking-1.61091/are-we-letting-our-souls-dance-1.1078685

http://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/blogs/spiritually-speaking-1.61091/recognize-the-opportunity-to-engage-others-1.1073854

Hope you enjoy.

Your friend,

Kevin

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,

Kevin

A poem for the new year by Joyce Rupp

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/jpkwitter

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/jpkwitter

Dear Pope Francis,

I was all ready to write my own post on welcoming the new year, and then Joyce Rupp‘s newsletter landed in my email inbox. She says it so perfectly in this poem that I don’t think I could really add anything else.

New Year Prayer of Fastening     (Joyce Rupp)

Fasten my heart to you, Love of all Loves,

that all I am and do finds its motivation in you.

 

Fasten my mind to you, Inner Peace,

that whatever stirs within leads to tranquility.

 

Fasten my days to you, Divine Presence,

that in each happening I remain united with you.

 

Fasten my nights to you, Keeper of Dreams,

that I find restoration in your embracing care.

 

Fasten my joys to you, Delight of My Soul,

that these memories comfort me in times of trouble.

 

Fasten my sorrows to you, Compassionate One,

that I experience solace in your kindheartedness.

 

Fasten my concerns to you, Faithful Companion,

that I withdraw from my fears and anxieties.

 

Fasten my responsibilities to you, Source of Love,

that my daily efforts evolve from a generous spirit.

 

Fasten my relationships to you, Friend of My Heart,

that your profuse love nurtures and sustains them.

 

Fasten my anguished world to you, Holder of Hope,

that my dreams for peace may become a reality.

 

Fasten my prayer to you, Eternal Mystery,

that I might give myself ever more fully to you.

New Year Prayer of Fastening     (Joyce Rupp)

 

Fasten my heart to you, Love of all Loves,

that all I am and do finds its motivation in you.

 

Fasten my mind to you, Inner Peace,

that whatever stirs within leads to tranquility.

 

Fasten my days to you, Divine Presence,

that in each happening I remain united with you.

 

Fasten my nights to you, Keeper of Dreams,

that I find restoration in your embracing care.

 

Fasten my joys to you, Delight of My Soul,

that these memories comfort me in times of trouble.

 

Fasten my sorrows to you, Compassionate One,

that I experience solace in your kindheartedness.

 

Fasten my concerns to you, Faithful Companion,

that I withdraw from my fears and anxieties.

 

Fasten my responsibilities to you, Source of Love,

that my daily efforts evolve from a generous spirit.

 

Fasten my relationships to you, Friend of My Heart,

that your profuse love nurtures and sustains them.

 

Fasten my anguished world to you, Holder of Hope,

that my dreams for peace may become a reality.

 

Fasten my prayer to you, Eternal Mystery,

that I might give myself ever more fully to you.

 

All the best for a great new year.

Your friend,

Kevin

To Know the Name of God

 

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/clairetrafton

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/clairetrafton

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,

Kevin

 

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
that
I’m
not
crazy
for having these feelings,
these knowings,
these soft murmurings,
in my deepest deep,
that I know
arise
from
You
but that I can’t explain,
as much as I try.

It would make things so much easier
for me
God
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
someone
and not
just
my
whirring
ceiling fan?
(Which, though, perfectly useful,
is not of much emotional support).

Whisper Your name to me,
God.
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,
God,
and hold
what a child of the cosmos
like me
was never
meant
to
hold.
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,
God.
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.

 

 

 

 

The Scarcity of Silence

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/sebastiano

Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/sebastiano

Dear Pope Francis,

It snowed this week where I live. Just two or so centimetres, but we don’t get snow here that often, and it’s always an event when the white stuff falls.

As the snow fell, one of the first things I noticed — when I wasn’t preoccupied by thoughts of when it would be most efficient to go out and shovel my driveway and walk — was the silence. Fewer cars were on the road and the noise from those that were was muffled. There was the odd sound of a sliding vehicle or a revving engine warming up, but, aside from that, it was pretty darn quiet.

I thought about how that silence was so noticeable, and realized it said a lot about my life. Logically, I would think noise would be what drew my attention, not the lack of it. Instead, silence was a unique event.

Maybe I just live in a noisier than normal neighbourhood, but I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, as I look more carefully,  I can see that I’ve made my life far too noisy all on my own.

I’ve realized that I rarely let myself be in silence. From waking up to going to sleep, I immerse myself in noise. One of my first actions in the morning is to blindly reach out to my nightstand and feel around for my phone, to check my email. Then I might check Facebook and Twitter, just to make sure I haven’t missed anything while I’ve been self-indulgently sleeping. I get up and do my morning things. Then I make breakfast and coffee, usually consuming them in front of my computer. The next hours are filled with emails and phone calls. I try to get out for a walk, but I almost always have my headphones on, with music or an audiobook accompanying me. At night, I’ll eat dinner in front of the TV, while also checking social media. Sometimes, I have to rewind a scene in a show several times because I am focused more on what’s happening on Twitter than the TV. I go to bed, try to read, but almost always give in to the siren call of my smartphone screen to engage online some more. I even fall asleep to the BBC, the news of the world pouring into my brain.

Just writing this down makes me uneasy because it shows how noisy I’ve let my daily routines become. I’m no longer in right relationship with silence. It didn’t happen overnight; I gradually fell into this pattern over many years. Looking at it objectively, I think I’ve become addicted to noise, both internal and external. Noise, for me, is numbing; when it’s noisy I don’t have to think about uncomfortable things, or face difficult choices. I just turn on the TV and it all goes away. But it doesn’t. Not really. It just adds to the background, well, noise.

There’s also something else I’m crowding out with all that noise — my relationship with the Divine. Where in my routine day have I built in time for prayer, of any kind? Never mind 20 minutes or so dedicated to mindfulness or centering prayer, I’ve ensured I can cruise through the day on a mental autopilot, without attention or intentionality. In all that chatter, there’s no dialogue happening with God. I’m too busy plugging my ears and screaming “nah, nah, nah, I can’t hear you!”

I have a choice in all of this. I could continue living in noise, and I might do OK. I’ll be anxious, but I won’t miss anything that’s going on, or so I’ll tell myself.

Or, I could put my fears aside and embrace silence, a little more each day. Maybe I’ll start with 30 seconds, of just sitting still. I’ll try not to plan, or worry, or think, or write blog posts in my head, or check Twitter, or make a witty comment on Facebook. I’ll just be. Baby steps.

I’ll remind myself that the Divine is with me in every moment, and I’ll embrace the Beloved for just half a minute. I’ll probably manage only a nanosecond, but it will be a truly silent nanosecond.

The noise, of course, will start up again, but maybe I’ll try 45 seconds the next time, and then a full minute. And maybe, just as I’ve let noise creep in over time, a companionable silence held in the Divine will come to shape my days.

I know it seems odd to end a blog about silence with music, but this Peter Mayer song always stills me. Proving, I guess, that there’s noise, and then there’s sound that leads to silence.

(If this doesn’t play for you, go here.)

Your friend,

Kevin

 

 

 

 

 

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,

Kevin

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