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Contemplify

The Contemplify podcast kindles the examined life for contemplatives in the world. Through artful musings with scholars, creatives, and master teachers each episode delivers a subtly intoxicating* exchange on the contemplative lifestyle with practical takeaways to emulate in daily life. Host, Paul Swanson, is a husband, father and contemplative educator at the Center for Action and Contemplation**. *Contemplify is best served with a pint in hand. Please listen responsibly. ** All shenanigans, tom foolery and bally-hoo posted on Contemplify are my own. Contemplify is not representative of the Center for Action and Contemplation or Richard Rohr on any matter.
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Jun 15, 2019

“In that larger tradition of transcendent art, if we let them into our hearts, these new poems from Jericho Brown will awe and unsettle us.”

- Frederick Speers, New York Journal of Books

Jun 8, 2019

I hoped for some last gesture beyond a handshake, writes Chris Dombrowski in Ragged Anthem, a soulful book of longing that is as comic as it is reflective. These poems sing of humankind in need of something it can only seem to get from the natural world, and of how we won t get it until we begin to understand ourselves as natural as any tree or river. Or as Dombrowski himself says, Again / I took daybreak for granted, easy / as mistaking pinecone for wasp nest, / wasp nest for shed antler, antler / for branch. Here, these so-called mistakes make for discovery that approaches the magic of revelation..

–Jericho Brown, author of The Tradition
Jun 1, 2019

"Chris Dombrowski has proven himself to be among the best poets of his generation. As one of those readers who admired and enjoyed his first two books — better put, who has gone to the poems for spiritual sustenance, for wisdom, and for the magic of being transported to the landscapes where the poet makes his life—I’m happy to report that Ragged Anthem continues to sing those essential songs in beautiful and unexpected ways."

– Todd Davis, author of Native Species and Winterkill

May 25, 2019

This series will introduce you to two poets who help me circle the mystery: Chris Dombrowski and Jericho Brown. My hope is that through these conversations you’ll get a taste of poetry as a contemplative gateway. Poetry has played that role for me as a contemplative practice; seeing reality from an angle that I had not yet noticed. Clear enough to see and yet cloudy enough to draw me closer, to engage all of my faculties in this new perception of reality. This practice of poetry drops me into the depth of my self, into the depth of Mystery.

In this trailer Chris Dombrowski reads, ‘The Hunt’ from his latest collection Ragged Anthem and Jericho Brown reads, “Of My Fury” from his latest collection The Tradition

Mar 18, 2019

This final episode of the Life of a Day series is all about you. It is about offering a reframing of your day with a new way of seeing, a new way of showing up as a contemplative in the world.

Feb 22, 2019

“The church is near, but the road is icy.

The bar is far away, but I will walk carefully.”

— Russian proverb

I raise this frosty pint in your direction for  this fifth installment of the Life of the Day series here on Contemplify where I'll be exploring my interpretation of the divine hour called ‘Compline’.

Feb 15, 2019

‘There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.’  - Thich Nhat Hanh

My intention here is to be present at hand to the dish in my hand. Perhaps we’ll strike gold today and I’ll communicate some semblance of that in this fourth installment of the Life of the Day series here on Contemplify.

Feb 8, 2019

“Few people know how to take a walk. The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence and nothing too much.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is the third jaunt of the Life of the Day series here on Contemplify.

Feb 1, 2019

My old pal Thomas Merton wrote, ‘[Contemplation] can be suggested by words, by symbols, but in the very moment of trying to indicate what it knows the contemplative mind takes back what it has said, and denies what it has affirmed.’

So...how do I talk about contemplation then? Briefly.

My intention here is to grasp at words that give shape to the formless abiding, even if only for a moment. If we are lucky here today, I’ll communicate some semblance of that in this second installment of the Life of the Day series here on Contemplify.

Jan 25, 2019

My intention here is to kick off the Life of a Day series in grand style, with coffee. This is the first installment of the Life of the Day series here on Contemplify, which is the reimagining of the Divine Office into my own personal reflective interpretations as a contemplative in the world. The intention is to mark each of the Hours but in a form very different from their regular practice behind monastery walls. In other words, this is what a contemplative rhythm looks like in my particular life.

Jan 24, 2019

How does contemplation appear in the life of your day? I've heard from many of you that this question lingers as you listen to the contemplative echo calling you in your daily life. My hope is that this series will help you answer that question for yourself.

Dec 13, 2018

This episode came to life a month before my newborn son. Inspired by friends, poets and writers I mused over the words to offer my son as he packed up his belongings from the dark warmth of the womb and worked his way into the shivering light of humanity. Finally, I put ink to paper. Once complete, the following letter laid in waiting alongside the clutter of discarded receipts and grocery lists. The sacred and profane cohabiting on my night stand.

Weeks later, my son was born. Upon his entrance into this world, the world’s response was immediate and in kind. Thunder clapped and rain poured in the desert. It’s strange to be here. The Mystery never leaves you alone.

Here is that letter to my newborn son.

Dec 12, 2018

"One of the foremost outsider artists in modern folk."

- The New Yorker

The first time I ever heard the music of Dan Reeder was when someone sent me a link to the video of ‘The Work Song’ (NSFW). Once I heard it, I had to find out who this guy was. I found out that his story is even more interesting than that song. I’ve been trying to set up this conversation with Dan for years, it took the kindness of his record label Oh Boy Records to put us in touch. Dan Reeder has a mind I enjoy being in conversation with, he looks at the world in unique angles (though he would never say that about himself).

Dan Reeder is an American musician and artist working and living in Germany. He has 3 albums and most recently an EP, Nobody Wants to Be You. You can find a book of his artwork entitled, Art Pussies Fear This Book. In our conversation we talk about his life as an artist, how he got connected with John Prine, how his perspective as an artist has shifted over the years and much more.

You can learn more about Dan Reeder's work at danreeder.com

You can follow Dan on social media on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Spotify.

Nov 20, 2018

"Phileena writes here with such simple clarity—and easy readability—because she knows she does not need to prove, convict, or defend anything. Mindful Silence contains not just her wisdom but the spiritual wisdom of the ages that is again standing the test of time and showing itself in the fruits of incarnational holiness. It is the great tradition of action and contemplation again showing itself."

-Richard Rohr, OFM

Eleven years ago I was a work intern at the Center for Action and Contemplation. A season of life that would unknowingly tether me to the contemplative journey. As a work intern, I lived in community with 6 other interns. If that weren’t enough, we were also the guest house for retreatants. One evening as we were settling into our dinner, there was a knock on our door. I hustled over to welcome our unknown guest, who happened to be Phileena Heuertz. Over the course of the meal we would come to learn about Phileena’s work with folks living in poverty and on the margins. She had just completed the pilgrimage, Camino de Santiago, and regaled us with stories of that experience. It was over the course of that meal that I first recognized the depth of Phileena’s being and presence.

I’m grateful for my friendship with Phileena and the ways our paths have crossed over the years. Phileena has written a book that will surely find its place in the new contemplative canon, Mindful Silence: The Heart of Christian Contemplation. In Mindful Silence she weaves her story, contemplative themes and teachers alongside practices, with the invitation always at hand to take another step into greater healing and wholeness by embodying the contemplative way. In our conversation we sink into the themes of Mindful Silence, how her dog Basil has been a contemplative guide, the passing of one of her mentors Fr. Thomas Keating, and how on a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy Phileena had an unexpected experience that continues to impart wisdom into her journey. 

Phileena is a founding partner alongside her husband Chris of Gravity: A Center for Contemplative Activism. A spiritual director, retreat leader, writer, yoga teacher and exactly the type of person you want to find yourself in conversation with. Head over to mindfulsilence.org to learn about Phileena’s book. Get a copy for yourself and a friend. This is the type of book that is resonates when read alone and relished when read alongside fellow travelers. 

You can learn more about Phileena Heuertz’s work at mindfulsilence.org, gravitycenter.com and phileena.com

You can follow Phileena on social media on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Oct 9, 2018

Theodore Richards latest work’s A Letter to My Daughters: Remembering the Lost Dimension and the Texture of Life.

Theodore Richards is a philosopher, poet and novelist. He has won numerous awards for his writing, most recently winning the Nautilus Book Award for his book The Great Re-imagining: Spirituality in an Age of Apocalypse. As the founder of The Chicago Wisdom Project, editor of the online magazine Re-imagining: Education, Culture, World, and a board member of Homebound Publications, his work is dedicated to re-imagining education and creating new narratives about our place in the world.

You can learn more about Theodore Richards at theodorerichards.com, on Facebook, and Twitter.

Sep 18, 2018

I love the kinship one can feel with a poet, author, or musician. The right song or poem can track you down and settle into the liturgy of your life. I count myself lucky to have had that experience too many times to count. I try to keep my ears open enough so artistic expressions can tunnel their way from my ears down to my heart and gut. It was a lovely New Mexican Fall day when one of my favorite poets suggested I listen to the song ‘Sand Hills’. I tracked song the down, put my headphones on, and followed the trails of the melody into the mysterious interior landscape mirrored by lyrical vapors traversing the natural landscape. That was my first taste of Luke Redfield.

Luke Redfield is an American folk singer who hails from my home state of Minnesota and now calls Austin, Texas home. He has crossed the country in true troubadour fashion, honing his craft along the way. As his website perfectly states it,

Luke integrates elements of classic folk, indie rock, and alt-country, his soulful songwriting explores the human condition through themes of love and landscape, adventure and inquiry—inviting all who listen to join in the dance of life.

Luke and I talk about our shared Minnesotan roots, how hearing Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ was turnkey moment in his life, what it means to be human, how Walt Whitman hoodwinked Ralph Waldo Emerson and so much more. Luke Redfield has a new EP titled “Love is All Around” being launched into the world on September 21st, you can buy this EP through Luke’s bandcamp site or go to LukeRedfieldmusic.com. The songs I’ve heard are a treasure. my daughter is already singing along with them.

With that, here is my conversation with Luke Redfield.

Sep 10, 2018

"In Distant Neighbors, both Berry and Snyder come across as honest and open-hearted explorers. There is an overall sense that they possess a deep and questing wisdom, hard earned through land work, travel, writing, and spiritual exploration. There is no rushing, no hectoring, and no grand gestures between these two, just an ever-deepening inquiry into what makes a good life and how to live it, even in the depths of the machine age."

- Orion Magazine

Chad Wriglesworth is a professor (at St. Jerome’s University), literary critic, book editor and writer. What most strikes me about Chad is his love of words. You will hear in our conversation how he lights up on the poetic turn of phrase, or a word that is precise enough to communicate exactly what is intended. Chad compiled and edited the letters for Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. This book is riveting and I begged it not to end. The tone, tenor and rhythm of the letters are the manifestations from the lives of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. If you are a fan of this podcast, you are no stranger to hearing about Wendell Berry; Kentucky agrarian, poet, novelist, essayist, to name just a few of his attributes. Gary Snyder is also a man of letters from the same generation and equally as counter-culture but from another slant. Snyder is a poet, Zen Buddhist, essayist and leans into a more hunter-gatherer philosophical stance.

Both Berry and Snyder have shaped the direction of my contemplative approach to not knowing, encouraging the way of ignorance (when ignorance is properly defined) and the practice of the wild. Chad Wriglesworth distills the essence of the selected letters so well in this conversation; he’s attentive, useful, poetic, and relishes the conviviality of the conversation.

To learn more about Chad's work, follow this link.

Aug 20, 2018

“Tessa said something that completely change my path and my life. She said that 'falling in love with life was the first step on the a mystical path.'"

- Adam Bucko

I first met Tessa Bielecki as I was exiting a port-a-potty. Let me explain. A few years back, I was at an arts and spirituality festival. As I departed a port-a-potty, I made a crack about it being a cramped prayer cell (or some such nonsense) to the woman next in line, and she let out an infectious belly laugh while held the grimy door open. Looking back, this was the right way to meet Tessa. See Tessa Bielecki is a contemplative on the roads of the world. She is familiar with the ditches, the biways and the old desert roads that take you to the end of what you know. And she’s gracious enough to share her wisdom of these roads with us today.

Tessa Bielecki has written a number of books, I recommend them all, and most heartily Holy Daring: The Earthy Mysticism of St. Teresa, the Wild Woman of Avila. Tessa dipped into a contemplative way of being early in her life and has followed that thread all the way up to the present moment. She been a part of many groundbreaking contemplative initiatives, and I’ll highlight one now. The Desert Foundation was founded by Tessa with her pal Fr. David Denny ‘an informal circle of friends exploring the spirit of the desert, its landscape and soulscape, with a special focus on peace and reconciliation among the Abrahamic traditions: Jews, Christians, and Muslims.’ You’ll get a mighty wash of that spirit of the desert in our conversation today, which holds the bearings for a rhythm of life that incorporates contemplative practices, the insights gleaned from re-reading formational books in your life, why the stories of Ernest Shackleton might just be the marker for transforming a season of life and so much more. 

To learn more about Tessa's work, visit desertfound.org.

Jul 16, 2018

Famed contemplative hermit Thomas Merton wrote in his journal in the mid 1960s, ‘Should a hermit like Bob Dylan? He means at least as much to me as some of the new liturgy, perhaps in some ways more. I want to know the guy. I want him to come here, and I want him to see one of my poems.’(p. 107) And after hearing Dylan’s album Blonde on Blonde, Merton pronounced, “One does not get ‘curious’ about Dylan. You are either all in it or all out of it. I am in his new stuff.” (p.2)

Robert Hudson has written a book that seems tailor made to my interests, it’s call The Monk’s Record Player: Thomas Merton, Bob Dylan, and the Perilous Summer of 1966. This book is for every Merton fanatic, Dylanphile, and those whose ears perk up at the calling of the artist as a contemplative vocation. A master wordsmith, a recognized Bob Dylan scholar and a member of the International Thomas Merton Society --  Robert Hudson is the perfect person to have written this book. In our conversations we’ll unpack Bob Dylan’s meteoric impact on Thomas Merton, wonder about Dylan’s awareness of Merton, share a playlist of songs to go along with this book and so much more. I’ve been waiting for a book like this my whole life, and Hudson breathes poetic life into the retelling of the intersection of Bob Dylan, Thomas Merton and the summer of 1966.

Jun 26, 2018

The first time I hung out with songwriter extraordinaire Del Barber was back in 2005 when he drove me from Calgary, Alberta to Winnipeg, Manitoba. I fell asleep almost immediately after he turned the ignition, waking hours later confused and unsure which Canadian prairies we were in the middle of. Del told me I snored. I apologized. He said he didn’t mind. The only other conversation I remember from that drive was about the sacredness of wine in various religious traditions. This would be the first of many long stretches on the highway together. This was back in the days when I believed ol Robert Keen that ‘the road goes on forever and the party never ends’.

In 2015 when I heard one of my favorite songwriters, Del Barber, was going to be playing the fabled SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas--I knew I had to be there. So, I called up my pal Del Barber to see if he would have any time to bounce around Austin between shows if I made the drive from Albuquerque. He said he would, and even secured me a free pass to the festival. With spirits high, I told my wife about my upcoming travels plans to go hear Del play. Coolly, she responded, ‘that would be fine--if you want to miss the birth of our first child.’

 

Del Barber writes songs that walk around with you, tells stories about your past or is it your future, he pulls back the curtain on the mystery of being human for few minutes while you catch your breath. Del Barber is a Juno award nominee and winner of other music awards that are likely propping open a porch door somewhere. It’s not that Del wouldn’t be grateful for the prestige, he would be and probably is, but he’s just too grounded to make a fuss over such accolades.

In our conversation today, Del and I cover the music and books that shape him, why it’s even more important to live out a dream once you are a parent, how when we were first friends I gave him a test to see if he would understood the wise words of Greg Brown, his connection with the prairie and city landscapes, and his upcoming 5th studio album ‘Easy Keeper’.

‘Easy Keeper’ is the first album that he’s reached out to his community of fans to help raise the resources to fund a record. Since I am a card-carrying member of that community of fans, I urge you to pledge some of your hard-earned dollars to support an independent artist such as Del Barber and so you can get your own copy of his upcoming album ‘Easy Keeper’. When the album drops, you’ll thank me. So there are a couple of ways you can get your mitts on a copy of ‘Easy Keeper’, by going over to Del's Kickstarter or by going to the show notes for this episode at Contemplify.com.

Follow Del Barber on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and DelBarber.com.

Jun 10, 2018

“This bold recovery of a long-forgotten path to prayer, expertly situated in its historical context and made accessible for modern-day believers, makes for absolutely fascinating reading--for the devout and doubtful alike."

- James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage

Imagine a wheel, a wheel with nesting concentric circles within it. Each circle holding the sacred text and ancient contemplative practice of a devoted community of monks. This sounds a lot like something pulled from Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, but actually I am describing a book, and contemplative practice, called The Prayer Wheel: A Daily Guide to Renewing Your Faith with a Rediscovered Spiritual Practice.

My guest today is David Van Biema. David and I explore a lot of terrain in this conversation. First we dive into the origins of why David became a religious writer (a story that reminded me of the film ‘O, Brother Where Art Thou?’, his discovery of the Prayer Wheel at an art gallery in New York, and how the Prayer Wheel can be a devotional practice for those in the Christian Tradition, plus much, much more.

David is the author of Mother Teresa: the Life and Works of a Modern Saint and co-author of The Prayer Wheel: A Daily Guide to Renewing Your Faith with a Rediscovered Spiritual Practice. Van Biema worked at Time magazine from 1993 until 2008, the last 10 years as chief religion writer. He is currently writing Speaking to God: A Cultural History of the Psalms.

You can learn more about David Van Biema and download an image of the the Prayer Wheel here. You can join the The Prayer Wheel discussion book on Facebook here.

May 30, 2018

‘What I wear is pants. What I do is live. How I pray is breathe.’ These 3 sentences come from my self-adopted contemplative grandfather, Thomas Merton.They ring so true for me that they were the basis for my thesis paper in graduate school.

Why?

Well, for me, they represent an embodied response to one of my essential life questions -  how does contemplation intersect with day-to-day life?

So there is this contemplative rhythm in some monasteries of the Christian tradition called the Divine Office...or the Liturgy of the Hours. Today’s episode is going to be the first of a series I’ll be doing on the reimagining of the Divine Office into my own personal reflective interpretations as a contemplative in the world. The intention is to mark each of the Hours but in a form very different from their regular practice behind monastery walls. In other words, this is what a contemplative rhythm looks like in my particular life.

May 15, 2018

Quoting the ancient I Ching, [Gail] writes about “coming to rest in motion.” She should know: a world traveler and social activist, Gail brings the steady calm she finds in the mountains to her work at peacemaking in a troubled world. ”

- Elizabeth Lesser cofounder Omega Institute

 

I feel like an absurd lover torn between two beloveds. But rather than being drawn to different people, I’m torn between landscapes. My primary loves are the lakes and trees of Minnesota, but I have also deeply fallen for the desert mountains and mesas of New Mexico. And still if I drift into memories, I recall other landscapes that pierced my heart. When it comes to landscapes, Gail Straub is my people.

Gail Straub is the author of The Ashokan Way: Landscape's Path into Consciousness. In the book and in our conversation Gail shares her wisdom on the dance of landscape and consciousness, her friendship with poet-philosopher (and one of my personal heroes) John O’Donohue, the role the Ashokan reservoir has played in her social activism, and her growth into a wisdom elder. The contemplative gift of The Ashokan Way is that Gail is a generative model of how to attune to a practice that requires focused and embodied attention to develop an intimacy with something larger than yourself.

Gail Straub, co-founder and Executive Director of Empowerment Institute, is one of the world’s leading authorities on women’s empowerment. As part of this focus, she co-founded IMAGINE: A Global Initiative for the Empowerment of Women to help women heal from violence, build strong lives, and contribute to their community. This initiative applies the Institute’s empowerment methodology to the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goal “to promote gender equality and empower women.” IMAGINE initiatives are under way in Afghanistan, Brazil, India, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan and South Africa.These are just some of Gail’s accolades. I am not going to list them all because after this conversation you should head over to her website, empowermentinstitute.net to learn more and possibly support her work.

Apr 24, 2018

I have only purchased one app for my phone. I find cell phones to be a necessary nuisance, helpful enough that I keep one, annoying enough that I keep it on silent. I don’t bemoan or resent anyone who has finally found love with their device. I get it. I just find it terribly distracting to the notes of life that I want to pay attention to. Then a friend forwarded me an article on a mobile app called WeCroak. I immediately realized I had been introduced to the perfect app.

The gist is this, after handing over a buck to WeCroak, you download the app and then five times a day you receive the following notification:

Don’t forget, you’re going to die.

Five times a day. The only other feature beyond this mortal reminder is that when you tap on the reminder, a quote appears from a poet, philosopher, author, etc, such as:

‘Let me respectfully remind you: Life and Death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. On this night, the days of our life are decreased by one. Each of us should strive to awaken. Awaken! Take heed! Do not squander your life.’ (Evening Gatha)

My guest today is one of the creators of the WeCroak app, Hansa Bergwall. Hansa runs a PR agency and is a poet. Our conversation runs the gamut of from Hansa’s inspiration for WeCroak to quotes from RuPaul and Stoic Philosophers on death and impermanence, why I find this app to be most helpful in work meetings, and we try to crack the code why most of the users of WeCroak are under 35.

You can learn more about WeCroak at wecroak.com and follow Hansa on Twitter (@buzznature).

Apr 9, 2018

Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu (スティーヴン・マーフィ重松) is a subtle and winsome teacher. I had the privilege of being in the student seat last fall at a conference where he was teaching. The first words I remember him speaking were in reference to the Japanese word ‘ma’, which he translated as the space that is the space between things. Inviting each attendee to take on the practice of listening by feeling and holding the spoken words before responding. I remember letting out a big sigh of relief (and of celebration) and recognizing that he was not a typical presenter seeking to bombard listeners, but to create space. It takes a subtle artist to create space within another person, Murphy-Shigematsu is such a person. He expands the meaning of mindfulness into the embodiment of heartfulness, and structures his latest book, From Mindfulness to Heartfulness: Transforming Self and Society with Compassion in such a way to ground the reader in the basic elements of heartfulness and ways to cultivate heartfulness from which compassion action can spring forth.

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