Dec 11, 2013 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

Pope Francis, TIME Person of the Year

Photo credit: The Jesuit Post (http://thejesuitpost.org/site/)

Dear Pope Francis,

Congrats on being named TIME Magazine’s “Person of the Year”. It’s a significant honor — even if Miley Cyrus was also a runner-up.

I know that worldly awards like this are probably not your concern, but it’s wonderful that you’ve been recognized, especially given the spirit you’ve brought to being Pope.

Enjoy today. Have an extra portion of ravioli at your favorite Italian joint.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 2, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Amazon Drone and our culture of faster, mindless and more, more, more

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Dear Pope Francis,

A couple of things have coalesced into today’s blog post. As I wrote yesterday, I’m focusing on waiting this Advent. Waiting and noticing. I think walking with my nephew last week brought me back to just how much I miss during my revved up days. They can become pretty mindless if I’m not careful.

I think it’s an inherent risk in our culture. We’re bombarded with messages to ignore what’s really going on and just buy more stuff. We’ve just come through one of the biggest retail sales periods of the year — Black Friday through Cyber Monday. Not exactly a great kick-off to a time of waiting and noticing. But it happens because there’s money to be made when we’re mindless and consuming.

Which is why I think the story that had everyone talking today is so emblematic of our culture. Last night, “60 Minutes” aired a piece on Jeff Bezos and his company Amazon. I didn’t watch, but have heard enough about the story to piece things together. It apparently focused on Amazon’s efficiency and amazing ability to get stuff to the people who want it. During the piece, Bezos announced that Amazon was testing robotic drones to deliver packages to people within 30 minutes. That set off quite a stir. It was all you read about on social media today.

Jeff Bezos is a master at selling things to us. When he founded Amazon, people mocked the concept. Buy books online? Really? When there’s all those local bookstores? We all know how that has turned out. Amazon is now a huge seller of books — and many, many other things. It’s become one of the largest, if not the largest, retailers in the world. You have to hand it to Bezos. He understands people and how to sell to them.

And don’t get me wrong. I’m an Amazon user. I have been since its inception. I love the convenience and choice. I now read most everything on my Amazon Kindle. I’ve bought in. I don’t like to admit it, but I have. I also have to confess that if Amazon Droid becomes available in my area, I’d give it a whirl. The novelty factor alone would drive me to try it at least once. I’m only human.

But, that’s just it. We humans have put so much energy, creativity and resources into being able to have exactly what we want delivered to us as quickly as possible, that it’s staggering. And I can’t help but wonder, as I ponder this, if we couldn’t solve many of our global problems if we directed even a quarter of that energy, creativity, and resources into solving them.

Then again, there’s probably not a lot of money to be made in ending poverty, hunger, or ecological destruction. In fact, the opposite is likely true.

But maybe, out there, is a Jeff Bezos type  — or a few of them — with the qualities and drive to make real change.

I’d love to see that — even more than an Amazon Drone dropping a package on my porch.

Your friend,

Kevin

P.S. I’m not sure if Mike Wallace were around that he’d have sanctioned what amounted to an ad for Amazon on “60 Minutes”. From what I’ve heard, I don’t think the piece was at all critical of Amazon, or some of its practices, particularly with respect to its workers. Again, I’m an Amazon customer, so I can’t throw stones here, too much. But things like this trouble me.

Dec 1, 2013 - Liturgical Seasons    2 Comments

Appreciating Advent

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Dear Pope Francis,

I’ve got another confession to make.

I’ve never liked Advent.

Earth-shattering, right? I know. I’m comfortably into my adult years, was born and raised Catholic, and have tried to flow with the liturgical calendar as much as I can. But I still have never liked Advent.

Let’s face it, Advent is kind of the ugly duckling of the liturgical seasons. It’s much less solemn than Lent, and not as joyful as Easter or Pentecost. Advent barely distinguishes itself from Ordinary Time, and is dazzlingly overshadowed by Christmas.

Growing up, Advent was always something to be “gotten through.” Early fall was pretty packed, what with school starting, Thanksgiving, and Halloween. After those rushed by you’d be spat out, panting, into November. For us Canadians there was Remembrance Day. Americans had their Thanksgiving. And then, nothing but a yawning gap of several weeks of waiting. There might be a school Christmas concert or pageant to distract you, but most of December — and Advent — seemed to drag by at the slowest speed possible. It probably didn’t help that, according to my mom, I didn’t sleep between Halloween and Christmas. I don’t wait well.

Things haven’t really changed much since I’ve become an adult, though there might be different reasons why I haven’t been a fan of Advent. Even though I haven’t been in school for *cough* years, I’m still wired to get revved up come September. I start new projects, buckle down on old ones, and generally power through the early fall. Then November comes and the light starts to fade, it gets cold, and my go-getting attitude becomes more like “yeah, I’ll get to that, after a nap.” By December all my sap of inspiration has fled with the daylight, and I hunker down and dream of spring. Winter, particularly December through February, is a motivational desert for me. I have one speed, and it’s a slow, slow slog. This is probably the reason why I’ve never gone up much enthusiasm for Avent as an adult, either. Typically, I don’t have a whole lot of HOOORAHHH going spare this time of year.

That might change this year, though, and it’s thanks to my nephew.

I went to visit him last week. I had a couple of days off and thought I’d spend a bit of time with him. He’s six, and in grade one. I wanted to get a feel for what his days are like, so I volunteered to walk him to and from school for a few days. If you haven’t walked with a child lately, I recommend it. You’ll see the world in a way you haven’t for a long, long time. You learn all about what makes a good tree for a treehouse and what you find when you pry open a maple tree seed pod (fluff, water, and a flat green seed).

You can even learn about Advent.

We were on our way to school when my nephew remembered that the first Sunday of Advent was coming up. He was excited to get out the Advent wreath he made in Kindergarten last year (he goes to a Catholic school). I’d seen it last year. It’s an ingenious thing, with four paper tubes for candles stuffed with little tissue paper “flames” to be pulled out when it was their turn to be lit.

I’ve discovered that getting information out of little kids can be like putting a shredded document back together, but a few well-timed questions can sometimes give you insights into what’s going on in their little heads. I decided to see what my nephew’s understanding of Advent was.

“What is Advent?” I asked him.

“It’s about waiting,” he said.

“Waiting for what?” I asked.

(At this point he shot me a look like I was a three-year-old who couldn’t tie my shoes.)

“Waiting for Jesus,” he said.

“Ah,” I said. So what do you do during Advent?”

“You wait. You go to Church. That’s basically it,” he said. And then he began pointing out good treehouse trees again.

So, Advent. It’s time of waiting. Just waiting. Not a lot of hoopla required. Doesn’t even take a lot of energy. Just an intention and attitude of waiting.

I think I can manage that.

Your friend,

Kevin

Nov 30, 2013 - Kind of Random, Mindfulness    No Comments

Forgive me, Holy Father, for I have not blogged

beginning again

Dear Pope Francis,

Forgive me Holy Father, for I have not blogged. It’s been…awhile since my last substantive blog post.

I know that, back in the halcyon days of June I said I’d write every day. I’ve kept up with that, for the most part, but there have been a few lags in posts. Life just has a way of intervening. I do try to keep up a few posts a week, at least, with interesting links and resources. But writing a full post every day can be a little tough.

However, with Advent just around the corner, I’ve decided to use the change in liturgical seasons to pick up the pace around here and I’ll be posting most every day until Christmas. There may be the odd skipped day, but I’m going to make it part of my Advent intentions to be more present on this blog.

So, thanks for keeping up with me. I look forward to sharing some great posts over the coming month!

Your friend,

Kevin

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