Jul 31, 2013 - Book Club    No Comments

Day 43: Book Club check-in

Dear Pope Francis,

Just a friendly reminder that the book we’re reading for book club is “The Universe Story” by Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. It would have made for a good read during your flight to Rio. Hope you made some progress.

I’m enjoying re-reading it, but fell a little behind. But I wanted to check in just to make sure you didn’t have any questions or ideas for discussion. If you do, just leave them in the comments.

I’ll be posting my thoughts soon.

Your friend,

Kevin

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,
actually
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,
Kevin

Jul 29, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Day 41: Helen Préjean and seeing the Divine

Dear Pope Francis,

One of the highlights of my Masters program at the Sophia Center was getting to meet one of my heroes. She’s not a rock star, or an actor — though Susan Sarandon played her in a movie. She’s Helen Préjean, and I’ve admired her work and courage for a very, very long time. Ever since I saw the movie “Dead Man Walking,” I’ve wanted to meet Helen. Her tenacity and hard work has lead to the end of the death penalty in many U.S. states. Sadly, it still exists in others, but Helen carries on.

Meeting Helen, for me, was a truly amazing experience. You need to know she looks nothing like Susan Sarandon. She’s a short, unassuming woman with a huge laugh and an even bigger sense of humour. Every other thing she says is a joke or wry observation. She had the whole room in stitches on more than one occasion. At the end of our time together, the group ended with something called the Elm Dance, which was created by Joanna Macy. It involves standing around in a circle, holding hands, and then stepping to first one side and then the other in a sequence. It’s a little complicated and you can get off beat fairly easily. Helen and I ended up together and when she took my hand she stared up into my eyes and said, deadpan, “You know if you do this wrong, you’ll squash me, right?” I laughed, and so did she. Inside I was bowled over. I had just shared a joke with Helen Préjean!

Being around Helen you could easily forget that she journeys with some of the most despised individuals in society — murderers on death row waiting for their execution. It’s hard to love this kind of person, or show them any kind of compassion. They have, after all, allegedly taken a human life — or several human lives. Yet, if you believe that the Divine exists in everyone, no matter what they’ve done, then you need to recognize the Divine in these individuals, no matter how heinous their actions. This is a big leap, and I don’t think many can make it. I’m not sure I can. In theory, moralizing about the evils of the death penalty is easy if it hasn’t touched you personally. If someone on death row had taken my parents, my sisters, my nephew, my brothers-in-law or a close friend from me, I’m not sure I could be so even-headed about why the death penalty is wrong. In grief, you cry out for anything that will make you feel better, to fill the loss, and vengeance is all too happy to rush in. And that doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human.

But I claim to be a human who understands that the Divine exists in everyone, and so there’s an added calculation to do in my moralistic math. And the Divine is kind of like multiplying by zero — it cancels out every other factor. With the Divine in all of us, we’re all the same, we’re all occupying the same point on the line graph. Nobody is higher or lower. We may have made mistakes, done horrible things, but, with the Divine inside, we keep our place on that graph. Nothing can remove us.

Even as I write this I feel a kind of tension. This is a really hard thing to accept. I mean, I often go through life being irritated and annoyed by people, and think unkind things about them. How they somehow don’t measure up to me because they don’t act in a way I’d want them to. This is why Helen Préjean so astounds me: she sees the Divine in death row inmates, where I can’t manage to see it in the guy who shoves his way past me in line or accidentally knocks me with his bag in a cramped airplane aisle. If I can’t do a namaste in their direction, what hope is there for me to walk where Helen Préjean walks?

Part of that answer came from Helen when she spoke to us. She talked about how life unfolds and changes. We can’t control it, we just need to understand that nothing is constant, nothing is forever, and we live in an evolving universe. This is both scary — what do you mean I can’t control anything??? — and reassuring. If I’m evolving and changing along with the universe, then there’s hope for me yet. I can grow into embodying a consciousness that recognizes the Divine in others. I still may not like the guy who nearly takes my head off with his carry-on bag (that probably breaks the size limit, but, I”m trying not to go there), but I will recognize that he has as much right to that bit of space on the plane as I do. (I just wish he wouldn’t swing his space into my space, but, hey…). From the guy on the airplane, I will likely have to evolve quite a bit more before I can recognize the Divine in a murderer, rapist, or drug dealer. But I have it on good authority, that it’s there. So, I live in faith until I can come to realize it myself, knowing I’ll backslide into thinking nasty things about my neighbour when he smokes outside and it gets into my winnow.

The other part of that answer comes from both Helen Préjean and another hero of mine, Ann Lamott. Helen’s work to end the death penalty has not been without its trials and tribulations. Consider for a moment the people who don’t exactly like what she’s doing. There have been death threats and hate mail. One of her group had his car shot up and when the police came they claimed they could not see any bullet holes in the car at all — despite the fact that they were right there and obvious to anyone. Helen’s first protest came as the result of a series of letters to the editor she wrote about ending the death penalty — many of which never ran. Then, one day, one did and, in it, Helen happened to promise that she would be leading a protest outside a prison where someone was going to be executed. When it ran, Helen realized she now had to do it. So she did. Her entire movement has been one of fits and starts. One of her first speaking gigs was at a nursing home. Three people came to hear her. Two fell asleep. For one of her long marches, Helen had gained significant media attention, but when they got to their destination, all the reporters wanted to cover was two women who had married death row inmates and chained themselves to the courthouse. Yet, despite all of this, Helen carried on, knowing her mission was good and true. And, we now see the result of that work. So, from Helen, the answer comes that you do what you think is right, what your’re supposed to be doing in this world, and, after some trials and tribulations, things will work. They may not work the way you thought they would, but they work.

From Ann Lamott, the answer comes in the form of her two best prayers “Help, help, help” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” The Divine is with in us, and as it unfolds, we unfold. All we need to do is ask for help and then be grateful for however that help shows up. Lamott’s other counsel is: Show up. Ask for Help. If all all else fails, follow directions. If we show up, trust in the Divine, and flow with the evolving universe, we’ll be OK. OK may not equal happy or entirely satisfied, but the universe doesn’t promise that. All the Divine promises is that we are here, we are alive, and we are meant to evolve, change and serve.

So, while I may not be ready to walk into a maximum security prison today and take up a journey with a death row inmate, like Helen Préjean, I can walk out into my own life and work to see the Divine in others. And that includes all the annoying people I’d sometimes wish I didn’t have to encounter. It’s the work of a lifetime, but every little unfolding is a step in the right direction.

Jul 27, 2013 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Day 39: Shed that skin

Dear Pope Francis,

I wrote this poem a little while ago about change. Hope you like it.

Shed That Skin

Tonight I sit
on a rock
at the edge
of an obsidian lake
that effervesces in the
still
dying
light
of the gloaming.

I sit on this rock
restless,
ill at ease.
Uncomfortable
in
my
own
skin.

A skin that has served me well;
remaining tight, resiliant,
protective.
Sheltering what lay inside transforming.
Like a cocoon
that keeps caterpillar soup
from leaking out
before the DNA fates
have done their work
and built a butterfly
from a blueprint
known only
to Mystery.

But now, I know
I have solidified
enough
that this soldier skin
pock-marked and worn thin
pulled tight at the seams,
should give up its vigil
and rest.
Yet, I cling on,
force it down
stick it into place,
unsure the untested membrane beneath
will serve as well.
And so my soldier-skin digs deep
marshals its resources
and holds on.
Loyal to the end.

And, so, we sit
soldier-skin and I
on the precipice
of this rock
and of this lake.
Both knowing neither of us may go further
while we are so joined.
But I hesitate, unsure.
Is this the right moment to give up my shield?
What if I have no sooner set it aside,
than a crushing blow,
from an unseen foe
smites me asunder?
What I if I struggle free from this cocoon
only to
fall
into
flames?

A sudden wind ruffles my hair,
stirs the lake
pulls my attention
outside of myself
to a lopsided circle
of snowdrops
emerging from a winter’s slumber.
Glowing paperwhites
called by Mystery
to usher in another spring
with their silent clarion call.

And at that sight, I laugh
shake my head at my folly,
my ego.
How can I
dare to ask
more of Mystery
than is needed by
the caterpillar,
the butterfly
the snowdrops?

Laughing, I stand
and the movement releases
the last fastenings of my
soldier skin.
We rise together, attached for one more
brief
moment,
before it parts from me
and with a sigh
bursts into flame,
bathing me in light
as I slip
beneath the
lake’s
darkly
shimmering
surface.

Your friend,

Kevin

Jul 26, 2013 - Kind of Random    No Comments

Day 38: Spare a prayer for the bees

Dear Pope Francis,

I know you’re busy in Rio, but I was wondering if you could spare a prayer for the bees. They’ve been vanishing and a new study may indicate why.

Bees are important. They are essential to all life on Earth. They are essential to our life on earth.

And we need to pay attention to what’s happening to the bees. And act.

Your friend,

Kevin

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,

Kevin

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,

Kevin

Jul 22, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Day 35: Embodiment

Dear Pope Francis,

I’ve been thinking about embodiment quite a bit. We spend so much of our lives disengaged from the world around us, other people, and even our own bodies. Some believe this could be at the root of many of today’s crises. I’m not up for much deeper thought today as it’s been a long one. But I think this Peter Mayer song explores this well.

Your friend,
Kevin

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,

waiting,

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,

reflection,

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,

Kevin

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