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At Swan Lake

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At Swan Lake,
creatures of divinity sail by,
paddling across velvet waters.
They greet all who wander
the shores of their tranquil lake.

Stately swans,
some white, some black,
glide and fly,
then gently come to rest,
on this Swan Lake afternoon.

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A Spirituality of Heart and Fire: Thoughts on Teilhard

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            Like Copernicus and Galileo, Teilhard de Chardin challenged the cosmology of his religious faith. When Copernicus proposed that the Earth rotated around the sun, he challenged the worldview that held the Earth as the center of the universe; for this, he was criticized by the church. When Teilhard embraced evolution, he challenged the worldview that God created the universe and then deposited humans in their place. Teilhard proposed instead that evolution was a sacred story, one that encompassed galaxies, planets, a myriad life forms, and humans.

            Teilhard was a man of great intellect and profound Christian faith. He possessed a sacramental imagination; for him, all matter was sacred and permeated with divine presence. He advised us to spend more time on creation and less on redemption. He challenged us to see that our human story is a dimension of the universe’s story. According to him, there is only one story, and we as humans are chapters and paragraphs in the greater story. He also proposed that there is a psychic/spiritual dimension in each and every creature, and implied that consciousness, which emerged into fluorescence with the human race, has existed from the beginning of time.

            Teilhard’s vision and insight are foundational to what we embrace today as the universe story and the new cosmology. Through his work, science has become a source of wisdom that addresses basic questions of origin, destiny, and purpose. According to Teilhard, when we experience creation through our senses, we experience the divine. For him, creation itself becomes a primary scripture, a primary revelation, and a source of awe and wonder.

            Through an appreciation of science, we are able to see with new eyes, and to understand that at the heart of the universe lies an emergent energy. This is the heart of God, or as Teilhard called it, the divine milieu. He saw the entire world as a theater for the sacred, a source of cosmic energy that culminates in the fullest expression of divine presence and embrace.

            A touchstone of the Judeo-Christian tradition is “the word become flesh.” Teilhard’s vision challenged this view. He revealed the depths of sacramental insight and theology, and declared that all matter is sacred and immersed in the divine. For him, “the flesh became word.”

            Teilhard espoused a keenly felt aesthetic theology. He affirmed that spirituality resided more fully in the imagination than in the intellect. To give expression to these deep wells of human experience required the use of symbol, imagery, and sound. For Teilhard, sacraments give expression to what lies within us at a level beyond conscious thought.

            For Teilhard, matter was a source and vehicle of divine presence. This vision had profound implications for his view of the Eucharist because, for him, the Eucharistic elements signify the presence of the divine in and through all creation. His cosmic vision expanded our sense of the divine’s numinous presence, and laid the foundation for an evolutionary faith.

            Although he died before his work was published and appreciated, Teilhard was a mystic and prophet of what was to come. In the words of Brother Jeffrey Gros, FSC, “Teilhard was in fact a ‘prophetic voice of a great transition.’” He was a bridge builder who challenged people of faith to see with fresh eyes the universe before us. He became a resource for the spirit and vision of Vatican Council II, which called people to a more personal and engaged spirituality. Retrieving the best of his Catholic tradition, he evoked and called for a new exegesis of creation and a new literacy that integrated faith and science, and called forth the emergence of a sacramental imagination.

            As we pick up our email messages today or send a text message to someone across space and time, perhaps we will reflect on the cosmological vision of Teilhard, and see that his understanding of the noosphere—the sphere representing the interrelationship of human consciousness—has by now extended and expanded worldwide, through scientific insight and means.

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From Sea to Shining Sea: Thoughts on Canada

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“O Canada, our home and native land”: these words, accompanied by lyrical music, resonate deeply in the mind and heart of every Canadian. From the western shore of Vancouver Island to the awesome eastern cliffs of Newfoundland, the dominion of Canada includes us all and is justly governed by a parliamentary democracy that honors both unity and difference today.

Our country welcomed First Nations People, the first to settle on this land, born out of the struggle and companionship of our French/English ancestors. This proud bilingual country has proclaimed her identity from the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia; to the awesome wonder of Banff Hot Springs and Lake Louise; to the amazement of polar ice caps in the North; to the mighty St. Lawrence River, which brings wonder and fresh water to its people.

Often remembered as a people of song, this bilingual family has given to its country and the world:

  • The poetic ballads of Leonard Cohen of Montreal
  • The folk lyrics of Shania Twain from Kirkland Lake       
  • The voice of poet and song writer Gordon Lightfoot 
  • The liberating voice of Gord Downie of Kingston     
  • The sounds of k.d. lang, Anne Murray, John Allan Cameron and many more
  • The home of the fastest game on ice, Hockey Night in Canada sounds familiar to every Canadian

Our country has been prophetically governed by great statesmen of yesterday and today. Among them are John A. MacDonald, Wilfred Laurier, Lester B. Pearson, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Jean Chrestian, and Justin Trudeau today. Each has a proud legacy and story to tell about a people who for many years have proclaimed, “Je me souviens” and the “Maple leaf forever.”

Canada tells the world its story of a multi-cultural mosaic. From the Iroquois, Chippewa, Potawatoni, and Métis to the immigration of the French and English, we forged a bilingual nation of both inclusion and distinct identity. This great dominion was born from the cooperative movement of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, to the social gospel initiative of the West, and became a beacon of hospitality and purpose for all who venture to its shores.

Canada is a place of health care for all. We give great thanks to Reverend Tommy Douglas, a member of the United Church of Canada and former Premier of Manitoba, who brought it to his province, only to see it spread across the country. Yes, our home and native land, born into being in 1867, ventures forth today, a place of patriot love and a home for all who cherish Canada.

 

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Canadian Night Owl

Canadian night owl,
offspring of Ontario

ancestral grace,
being of wisdom,
child of river and of earth,
source of all guidance
shining in the darkness
on this autumn moonlit night.
Here at the confluence,
we give great thanks

to our wise and friendly friend.

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Wait

Inspired by each movement of the spirit
that stirs us deeply,
we sink below the turbulence
and pay attention to the promptings of the heart.
Enveloped in the gaze of Jesus,
preoccupations and plans melt away.
In and through this intimate approach,
we surrender to the ever-present now,
and undefended before our loving God
in silent expectation,
we listen for the voice that calls us forward.

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An Economy in which People Matter

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There is an old story that when a reporter asked the billionaire John D. Rockefeller, “How much money is enough?” and the answer came back “One more dollar!” There are various versions of this tale, and we don’t know for certain that any of them are true. But the point is still taken.

I’ve always been a fan of country music, and I especially like the song “A Satisfied Mind,” written by Joe Red Hayes and Jack Rhodes, and made famous by Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, and Porter Wagoner, among others. Hayes said he wrote the song after his father-in-law asked him to name the richest man in the world. His father-in-law said all his answers were wrong: the richest man was the one with a satisfied mind. In fact, money can’t buy what we most value in life, and not one rich person in ten has a satisfied mind, as the song tells us.

One glance at the news today, and it is difficult not to be overwhelmed by the pain, poverty, and homelessness affecting people in many cultures and countries around the world. As I write this, only 5 percent of the population in Puerto Rico has electricity almost two weeks after the hurricane. More than half are without drinking water. Yet the president of this nation is comfortably ensconced in his golf club. The question that comes to my mind is: do we have a culture and an economy in which people matter?

When E.F. Schumacher wrote Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered in the 1970s, he prophetically asked readers to consider what would the economy be like if it were designed as if people mattered, rather than based on a philosophy of bigger is better.

Pope Francis offers his critique of the global economy when says we have made money our god. He laments that while people will die of starvation tonight, food is reserved only for those who are able to pay for it. We consider a drop in the stock market to be “a tragedy,” he says, while homeless people dying in the streets is not newsworthy. The economy, he says, “should not be a mechanism for accumulating goods, but rather the proper administration of our common home.” I am reminded of Schumacher’s words when I hear Pope Francis tell to “put the economy at the service of peoples.”

Nevertheless, there are ministers on the airways today who preach a so-called prosperity gospel proclaiming that if the economy rewards you in this world, you will be assured of God’s reward in the next. It is ironic that many who follow this gospel are themselves poor. Instead of seeking a satisfied mind, or seeking to become planetary people who care for the needs of the Earth and its peoples, their highest striving is for “one more dollar.”

I suggest that we foster the growth of an economy that can transform objects into subjects, guilt and grief into gratitude, and isolation into love. Only if we start from the premise that the Earth and its people matter, can we begin to discover how much—of what we have, and what we want, and what we need—is enough.

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Emergence

When hopes seem dashed,
and faith diminished,
when all we thought was promised
begins to dissolve and shatter before us,
we descend to the floorboard of our souls.
There, caught in the turbulence of the moment,
we search for the still point of the sacred.
In that place of uncertainty,
we open to the unexpected
welcome the possibility of the new.

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Ocean of Grace

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We gather today,
friends of Doug and Camille,
to launch and celebrate
a buoyant new beginning
on their adventurous journey.

Here on the shores
of the mighty Pacific,
may they be carried forward
into this new time.

May their new home
become a place
of wonder, belonging and love;
a sacred place
where their lives flow
into new oceans of grace.

In this place
where newness happens,
peace presides
as their blue boat home
sails confidently
into fresh adventures
yet untold.

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At the Feet of the Cosmos

In this journey of faith, we discover the palpable presence of the divine. A growing global awareness anchors us in the cosmos. The divine presence awakens primordial energies in our bodies, and we feel ourselves connected with all of creation. Our prophetic contribution to the universe captivates and enchants us. Cosmic wisdom unfolds life’s surprises. Our privilege is to be open to the moment of the unexpected.

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A Lesson of Solidarity

Astronauts, such as Scott Kelly, who spent 340 days in space, are able to view our planetary home without the national boundaries we impose. The cosmic principle of communion opens us to the interconnectedness of all things. Experiencing the universe as one enhances the meaning of global solidarity. On the global level, we focus on our commonalities. We rely on trust and communication. Above all, we hold humanity and the Earth in an embrace of compassion.

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Letter to a Young Poet

I sit in my apartment in Berkeley, California, pick up a pen and a pad of paper, and begin to write. For a period of time, inspired after I attended a reading by Mary Oliver, I took up the challenge each day to listen deeply to the spirit speaking softly to my soul and commit that to paper.

Poetry affords the opportunity to have a dialogue with the pad of paper. The paper serves as a dialogical partner, a spiritual companion, whose empty page is the willing recipient of whatever lies in my heart and longs to be heard.

Sometimes I think of poetry as a dream on paper—a way to translate the impulses of the soul into shareable forms.

 

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Unspoken Hunger

Mary Grey says,
“If we long for God,
we long for the satisfaction and fulfillment
of what we genuinely desire,
far and away beyond the titillating enticements of the market
which have blocked the wisdom to know.”

Guardians say,
“I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but humbly offer myself as
a guardian of nature.”

Rilke says,
“Let everything happen to you:
beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.”

Gail Straub says,
“Without the out-breath of
compassionate engagement our
inner work implodes upon itself.”

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee says,
"Deep within the heart there is the primal pain of longing,
the cry of the soul separated from its source.
This pain comes from the memory
of when we were together with God.”

John O’Donohue says,
“The contemplative has broken
through to that sanctuary
in the soul where love dwells.”

Miriam MacGillis says,
"Each of us must take our place
in the unfolding mystery that is
at the heart of the Universe.”

Brother David Steindl-Rastsays,
“Our heart is that center where
we are one with ourselves,
with all others, and with God.”

Thomas Berry says,
“We need to move from a
spirituality of alienation from the natural world
to a spirituality of intimacy with the natural world.”

Rumi says,
“Longing is the core of mystery.”

Mary Oliver says,
“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life,
I was a bride married to amazement.”

Dorothy Day says,
“The mystery of the poor is this:
That they are Jesus,
and what you do for them you do for Him.”

Albert Einstein says,
“The most beautiful experience
we can have is the mysterious.”

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Health Care: Lives Hang in the Balance

Did you know a Canadian was known as the “Father of Medicare”? Many years ago, in 1947, Tommy Douglas, a Baptist minister and Premier of Saskatchewan, achieved a historic accomplishment. His government made it possible for everyone in the province to have health insurance and access to health care. The results were so positive that this Medicare-type program soon spread across the country, and single-payer health insurance became—and remains—the right of every Canadian.

Today the United States, which likes to think of itself as one of the most advanced countries in the world, finds itself embroiled in a debate over health care. The current proposal by the Republicans would remove 22 million from health care coverage. You don’t have to look far to hear stories about how such a move would endanger the lives of the young, elderly, and disabled, as well as all people. On the nightly news, you can see mothers in tears, pleading for the care needed by their disabled children. The situation is dire and urgent.

What motivates this insensitive initiative that would remove access to health care for the poorest and most needy among us?

It an economic system that does not favor the equitable distribution of the fruits of the Earth. Rather, it is a system that favors increasing tax cuts for the wealthiest. In my view, this is an approach that is neither needed nor just. It lacks basic compassion.

The driving principle behind this is political ideology, simply stated, is “He who governs least governs best.” The result that logically follows is a laissez faire system that prioritizes opportunities to accumulate a maximum amount of wealth. Such a system inevitably results in winners and losers, with a worldview that is expressed by the bumper sticker slogan “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

Now the vote on health care has been delayed. But the issue is far from resolved. I think of Tommy Douglas and I think of the mother I saw the other day speak from the bedside of her disabled child, and lend my voice to the rising chorus of Americans calling out to the highest heavens, “Our economic and health-care systems need to be based on greater compassion!”

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A Story for Our Time

Stories are amazing and wonderful. They reveal our origins, tell us where we are now, and provide a sense of tomorrow. Today we call the narrative that tells our 14-billion-year history the “universe story.” This story was heralded 25 years ago through the publication of The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era: A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos.

At the time, I attended a gathering at the Gaia Bookstore in North Berkeley to honor the authors. In the corner of room populated by colleagues, friends, and students, sat cultural historian and geologian Thomas Berry and scientist and ecological philosopher Brian Thomas Swimme. At the end, each inscribed a brief comment on my copy. Thomas wrote, “Autumn greetings 1992,” and Brian wrote, “May our common work so long in the making continue to fructify.”

The vision of Thomas and Brian has inspired many projects and books since—among which I include my own work. And there is still much to do. Their wisdom and guidance have never been more needed than they are today.

Today, climate change is no longer a theory, but an alarming reality. Witness, for example, the highest temperatures on record here in the Bay Area this month. Across the arid regions of the planet, heat and drought are rendering human life increasingly difficult. Every night, the media is abuzz with the latest revelations about the Russian influence in our elections, threatening our democracy, while the threat of nuclear war once again looms large.

These days, as we tremble at the thought of our uncertain future, we welcome the prophetic voice of Pope Francis, and his letter to the world Laudato Si’–On Care for Our Common Home. And we turn for guidance to the wisdom of Berry and Swimme, so that ecological balance and planetary peace may be restored to our fragile planet, and that our lives may be guided by deep cultural wisdom.

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A Saul Alinsky Story

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A Saul Alinsky Story

It was 1970, and America was churning. People were in the streets protesting the ill-advised Vietnam war; Watergate was on the horizon though not yet upon us. The civil rights movement, wounded by the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was awash with violence across urban America in cities such as Newark, Detroit, and East Los Angeles.

At the same time, the Abrahamic religions were striving to become relevant in the wake of Vatican Council II as they sought ways to respond to the world of the flower children and the Free Speech Movement. Programs were founded in churches and communities around issues of race, education, green space, taxation, and other questions of justice and rights here at home.

As a Canadian, I was deeply affected by the signs of the times and began to search for a program I could join that was designed to prepare people for a society in crisis. My research led me to Chicago, where I enrolled in the Industrial Areas Foundation Saul Alinsky Training Institute.

Saul Alinsky made a profound impression on my life, an impression that remains with me today. He was always curious, always searching for meaning, and focused on action. He believed in equality and opportunity for everyone.

I sat in the IAF classroom one evening in 1970, and Alinsky was leading the class. I had a copy of his just released book, Rules for Radicals, on my desk. And I began to take notes.

For Alinsky, the organizing process begins with seeing world as it is and moves into creating the world as we would like it to be. He believed in intuition and visceral responses, and would say “the body trumps the mind.” He believed in the goodness of people and in their capacity to create a more just and equal society in which each person’s potential is realized.

The approach to organizing Alinsky developed included four principles.

·       Listen to people to find out their concerns. He called this “organizing with your ears.”

·       Examine the obstacles to a free and open society and take steps to transform them. This is a “disorganizing” phase.

·       Recognize the areas of concern for a community that are not being responded to, and create new structures to resolve them.

·       Combine the new structures with preexisting ones that are already in alignment, and prioritize issues of concern.

The process Alinsky developed is alive and vibrant today. In response to the current threats to our democracy, people in my community and across the country are gathering in living rooms and public places to listen to each other and share their concerns as neighbors. We seek to dissolve prejudices and to move forward with a vision that allows society to flourish with an enhanced sense of security and peace. Perhaps we can look to the legacy of Saul Alinsky for guidance as we sow seeds of hope and friendship for a better tomorrow.

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A Disastrous Choice

As expected, President Trump removed the United States from participation in the Paris Climate Accord. This decision was based on greed and on adherence to what is most dangerous to the well-being of our fragile planet. Such an act stands in opposition to what is most prophetic in America.

This outrageous choice makes no economic or planetary sense.

It contradicts the best of the scientific and social visionaries alive today. It disregards all of Al Gore’s climate change initiatives, and places the future of our planet and its people in greater jeopardy. It ignores Johanna Macy’s vision of the great turning. It makes Thomas Berry’s dream of the Earth become instead a nightmare for humanity. The fact that the very day of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord fell on the eighth anniversary of Thomas’s passing is ironic, to say the least.

I can feel the pain of this disastrous choice. Yet, as I contemplate the significance of this moment, I nevertheless look for reasons to feel encouraged. I think about the sun’s generous gift, about the beauty of the flower outside my window, about the spontaneity of the child who lives with her parents down the hall.

And especially, I am inspired by the numerous people who gather here and around the country, motivated by genuine love for the Earth. These people are our hope for the future. They are dedicated to preserving the sacredness of life, so that future generations may live in a truly participatory democracy, where people recognize and listen to one another. They dream of a world whose first act is compromise and whose organization is founded on justice making.

The toxic news of the day may assail me, but I also cannot ignore the goodness of the people I see around me. I feel hopeful seeing something precious and new bubbling up at a grassroots level. I pray that the future will more just, that people will be more engaged, that our journey together will continue, and that our tomorrows will be better than all our pasts.

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