Spring 2024

The rhythmic dance of seasons mirrors the cadence of our lives, a perpetual cycle of growth, transition, and introspection. Ice melts revealing potential. Seeds wake and rise. Spring arrives with the promise of new beginnings, blossoms unfurling like opportunities that beckon us forward. The seasons, like the chapters of a novel, narrate the ever-shifting tale of our world, each phase contributing to the rich tapestry of our collective journey.

When the seasons shift, even the subtle beginning, the scent of a promised change, I feel something stir inside me. Hopefulness? Gratitude? Openness? Whatever it is, it's welcome.

– Kristin Armstrong

The Seasons of our Lives


Photo courtesy Brad Starkey

The Cobb Institute “Work in Process” newsletter has changed over the course of its existence. Originally the newsletter was created to share information about upcoming events, classes, and blogs. At first it went out monthly and then changed to quarterly. We will continue to send out a monthly announcement message that we call “Actual Occasions” so that you can keep up on all of our offerings.

A newsletter, much like every entity in the cosmos, undergoes a continuous process of becoming. This updated quarterly publication will now be called “Seasons: A Creative Quarterly of the Cobb Institute,” and it will feature reflections on a central theme. We will include art, photography, poetry, and essays as a creative expression of ideas, mirroring the cosmic creativity inherent in Whitehead's process-relational philosophy. I have often written about the importance of living with the awareness of how this relational process is unfolding in our lives as a type of process in praxis. For the purposes of Seasons, I am interested in people and their reflections on their becomings. In a relational world, we are each other’s teachers. I am excited to learn from your creativity, experiences, and the seasons of your lives.

Kathleen Reeves is the community relations specialist at the Cobb Institute, and leads the Institute’s cohort program. She also serves on the communications team and assists with the Institute's social media messaging.

We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

– Joseph Campbell

Hold Hands and Dance

“What is your secret for turning ninety?” This is the question I was asked by several medical folks as I was recently given lab tests at my local clinic. “Secret?” I wondered, finding it difficult to reply, joking with them, “I just keep breathing.”

On further consideration, I might have had a few “suggestions” from my personal experience like the ones I am willing to share with you.

First of all, luck may play the biggest part in my longevity: I was lucky to have won both the birth lottery and the parent /gene lottery. My birth was a surprise, perhaps, a gift to my parents‘ middle years. In truth, it was not a good year for them to have a fifth child—1933 was the height of the Great Depression, the year Hitler and FDR came to power, the year prohibition ended, and for my parents the beginning of the "cocktail hour" at home. By the time I was seven all three of my big brothers had signed up for oversees duty and later managed to come home without being wounded.

That was my beginning in privileged surroundings, born to very able parents in a great place to grow up, middle class, in a suburb of Boston. In the years that followed, I moved around this country a lot, in good times and not so good times. Of course I had ideas and hopes for what might happen along the way. However, to make a plan for one’s life is only to make God laugh. We have little say over what happens next, and we are under the control of parents or guardians until our teenage years, thrust into adult hood after that.

I once saw a bumper sticker that read: “Eat right. Keep fit. Die Anyway.” A bit cynical, but true enough. No matter how we try for a long healthy life, stuff happens. We follow our dreams while being pushed around by the fickle finger of fate. However, I like to think, even as the elderwoman I am now, I still have some choices which may help me survive consciously on this precarious planet.

Those of you who know something about me will guess what I am going to say next. The not so well-kept secret is covered in one word: community. Yes, family is great, lucky you if you have a caring family nearby. I am not so fortunate. Any community, perhaps based on a chosen faith may work for you. Ideally, it will be inter- generational, inclusive, providing opportunities for commitment, even sacrifice and purpose.

Yes, one that calls on you to share your talents, time, and treasures also. My faith and the people in it who continue to enrich my life, have given me a life worth living. They give continuing sunshine to my sunset years. Being part of a community and active in other interest groups like the Cobb Institute help to encourage service to others, so necessary to keep us active and aging consciously.

I take an example from one of my gurus, Ram Dass. He can tell us what it means to have serious challenges after a debilitating stroke. He counsels us to become aware of the depth dimension in our lives, the deepening realization that things are not only what they appear to be, they are so much more. Also, he counsels, and I agree, to enlarge our circles, become more expansive about whom we serve, and how we can serve people in a way that helps both them and ourselves.

One more thing that has helped me to have a good time during my allotted days is optimism. Yes, I usually resonate with happy endings, as long as they are not too sappy or Hollywood-contrived. You can be assured that along with my life of privilege, I have had my share of suffering and even tragedy.

My favorite scene from all the films I have seen is the one where Zorba the Greek and the Boss witness the collapse of the structure they built to ship lumber to the waiting boat. Their dreams are dashed. What else can they do but hold hands and dance on the beach! (Greek music helps.) Yes, I am a cockeyed optimist but with eyes wide open to the inevitability of unhappy endings. So here you have my insights of how I have lived to this age of 90, with luck and love and faith in this universe. And that is no secret.

Ellen Livingston is a minister emerita of the Monte Vista Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Montclair, California. She served as senior minister there for nineteen years, before which she served ten years as a minister in Park Forest, Illinois. Ellen is interested in the area of pastoral counseling and has been active on the Board of the Clinebell Institute for six years. Ellen is a poet, an amateur artist, and a grandmother.

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

– Albert Camus

Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes:
Opening to Creative Transformation in Retirement

In pondering my future on New Year’s Day 2021, I thought I knew what was ahead of me personally and professionally. Eight years into a successful pastorate, growing a congregation despite the challenges of Covid, I anticipated remaining as senior pastor of an historic Cape Cod congregation until age seventy-five and spending the rest of my life on Cape Cod, beachcombing, hiking, and writing, aging as creatively as possible.

But, all things change, as the philosopher Heraclitus asserted, and two months later, our son, whose family had moved to the Cape for their children to have the advantage of grandparents nearby, broke news that turned my world upside down: after seven years on Cape Cod, he and his wife decided to move back to the Washington DC area so he could be more hands-on in running his international consulting firm.

I was gobsmacked, to say the least. Suddenly the future was wide open, and my plans for the years ahead were in doubt. I am a process theologian, who has lived with process theology since I was a junior in college, now over fifty years ago. I know that each moment is perpetually perishing and life is change. I know that the pure conservative, holding onto the past, goes against the forward movement of the universe. I know that God is the catalyst of novelty as well as the source of healthy stability. Nevertheless, my wife and I had a vision of long-term personal growth on Cape Cod. We had plans, and now the novelties of life forced us to make a decision. Would we stay on the Cape, where life is simple, and sea breezes blow, or would we pick up stakes and head back to the Washington DC area? Would we enjoy growing old together just the two of us, only occasionally seeing our grands faraway in Washington CD, or would we let go of our professional lives, sell our commodious home and lovely gardens, and move to a more complicated suburban life in the Potomac, Maryland, near our family?

Regardless of our decision to go or stay, my wife and I were facing big changes. As everyday grandparents, we couldn’t imagine being separated from our grands, who studied at our home every day when the schools moved from in-person to zoom for classes. We also didn’t want to leave our professional lives and the beauty of Cape Cod. We had the privilege of two good options, but a decision had to be made.

My wife and I believe that each moment is pregnant with possibility. We have not only studied process theology, we have sought to live out process theology in our daily lives and decision making. We affirm that God is present as a lure within this particular, and every, moment of decision and that there is promise and possibility in each choice we make. We also realize that gain and loss is present in each choice we would make. We believe that within the “impasse” of every moment we are presented with divine possibilities to embody God’s vision of beauty and love. This juncture of our lives would be no exception. While this didn’t make the choice easier, God’s intimate presence as the source of possibility in our lives gave us confidence that whatever choice we made would open the doors to new possibilities and that going or staying, a holy adventure awaited us.

After many conversations and much prayer and reflection, we chose to relocate to the DC area. For me, at age 68, this meant, “retiring” from full-time ministry and leaving behind my beloved morning walks on the beach near our home. Fortunately, finances were not a problem. We could maintain our current lifestyle, despite high cost of housing in the DC area, through a combination of social security, retirement plans, and investments.

The real issues I faced involved meaning, relevance, and self-identity. While my identity was not tied up with my professional life, what worried me was whether or not I would find meaningful activities in our new locale. Would I embrace God’s holy adventure or would I find myself on the sidelines, irrelevant, and overlooked by my peers and younger generations in my field?

We grieved our move. But the framework of process theology inspired us to see the changes we faced as the womb of new and unexpected possibilities. We knew that new situations bring new possibilities from which to choose, and when we open to the array of possibilities emerging in a new context, even more possibilities enter our lives. Our calling is to be agents of possibility. After contemplating our situation prayerfully, we can choose to be agents of the future, running toward rather than away from novelty.

In my case, coming back to the Washington DC area invited me to reach out to friends and professional companions. I also came back with over forty years of experience as a pastor, professor, administrator, and writer, from which to draw upon as I evaluated possibilities. We returned to our old congregation after nearly twenty years away. While not wanting to take too much responsibility, it was clear that there was a need for classes in adult faith formation. The pastor invited me to teach a class on the prophets, and that began a two-year journey of Thursday morning seminars on Zoom, which may stretch out for years to come.

Another adventure awaited me, grounded in the interplay of my gifts and the congregation’s needs. When the pastor at the time chose to resign, the church was initially unable to find an interim minister. Anxiety about the future was pervasive in the congregation. After a few weeks of prayerful reflection, I made it known to the congregation’s moderator that I was willing to be the congregation’s “bridge pastor,” a post which I held for three months, providing pastoral leadership in preaching, worship, pastoral care, and administration, and renewing the congregation’s sense of vitality and hope. I did not seek the position but felt the divine call to share my gifts for the well-being of the congregation. I believed that God was at work, challenging me to play a role in the securing the congregation’s future. When an interim minister was finally called, I comfortably returned to my role as an informal “theologian in residence,” happily worshipping and continuing my role as an adult faith formation teacher.

One of my scriptural mantras comes from Lamentations 3:22-23:

     The steadfast love of God never ceases,
     God’s mercies never come to an end;
     they are new every morning;
     great is your faithfulness.

This scripture captures the spirit of process theology: the faithful presence of God, the inclusive love of God, the lively creativity of God, and our role as God’s companions in bringing love and beauty to the world.

There are many adventures ahead for us in the DC area. I still miss my daily beach walks, but I have discovered that my neighborhood affords a lovely environment for walking. We miss our large yard, and room for our ninety-pound golden doodle to run around, but we have found a lovely “dog park” in the neighborhood and the townhouse community’s commons is an inviting place for a romp.

The next adventures involve our grandchildren embracing their teenage years and changes in the level of our care. Moreover, in the years ahead, even though we are healthy, the aging process will bring changes in activity and energy levels. We don’t know what the future will bring, but as we face that future, our trust is that the concrete changes of life will be the womb of new possibilities and that God will be our companion in every change of life, the fellow sufferer who understands, the joyful companion who celebrates, and the imaginative challenger who lures us toward the future.

Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, spiritual guide, and author of over eighty books, including his Christmas trilogy, The Work of Christmas: The Twelve Days of Christmas with Howard Thurman; Thin Places Everywhere; The Twelve Days of Christmas with Celtic Christianity; and I Wonder as I Wander: The Twelve Days of Christmas with Madeleine L’Engle, as well as Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed; Process Theology and Politics; Prophetic Healing: Howard Thurman’s Vision of Contemplative Activism; and Walking with Francis of Assisi: From Privilege to Activism.

Not forever does the bulbul sing
In balmy shades of bowers,
Not forever lasts the spring
Nor ever blossom the flowers.

– Khushwant Singh, Train to Pakistan

Saying Goodbye

It was disorienting. My routine fell apart, and I wasn’t sure what I should be doing. Grief is like that, and sometimes we go to do something out of habit, only to realize that everything has changed. It can feel like little stabs of acute grief throughout the day.

I took on this little dog from The Real Bark dog rescue. His name was Kip, and he had a serious health condition. The dog rescue needed a “forever” foster home that could handle a dog with special needs. Kip took multiple daily medications four times a day, he had many veterinary appointments, and he required reassurance and routine. It's difficult to find someone willing to take on a dying dog. Kip's prognosis gave him about 6 months to a year of life.

I am a hospice chaplain and felt I could do this. Kip settled in and made it clear that he was stubborn about certain things. Kip didn't like to walk on a leash, he would rather go in his stroller. He didn't like cold weather, so he had sweaters and blankets. He liked certain treats and not others, but his food had to be closely monitored due to his liver failure. He was indifferent toward most people, but he loved going out. Kip’s favorite thing to do was to go for car rides. That made him so happy, so I took him everywhere. I always had Kip along for the ride when I attended meetings or ran errands or met with friends for lunch. Kip regularly came to a grief group I led and to visit seniors at an assisted living facility, always in his stroller. Kip showed them that you can still live your best life even if you have a terminal diagnosis and need a wheelchair. It’s all about quality over quantity.

Kip lived longer than expected and he was very attached to me, and I grew very attached to him. I felt I could understand his facial expressions and what he was trying to say whenever he looked at me in a certain way. I could tell when he started to decline and wasn’t feeling well. His liver had enlarged so much it began to push on other organs, and he was uncomfortable. Eventually it pushed on his diaphragm and made it difficult to breathe. I knew what that meant. We took that final car ride to the Veterinarian.

The grief was overwhelming, and I felt disoriented. My little dog Kip had died. I always knew he would die, because I took him as a foster knowing that he had an enlarged liver. When I got him, my life changed and revolved around his medication schedule. I had to plan vacations that included him because of his medication schedule. I adjusted my life around his needs, and I didn’t mind. His routine became my routine. Kip didn’t like it if I stayed up a bit later to watch a movie. He wanted to go to bed at his bedtime, and if I didn’t come, he would come out of the bedroom to give me an indignant look and turn around and go back to bed. But then he would get up again and give me attitude every twenty minutes until I went to bed. Kip didn’t like change. But we know that life is in constant movement, and Kip’s body was changing. His liver kept growing. When he died, my heart broke. Kip changed my life, but when he died my life changed again. Change is like that; it can disrupt your life in good ways and bad. I have learned that what death asks of us is surrender. We fight it but there is nothing to be done but to surrender to change. Now I can reflect on how Kip was a teacher, and he taught others about a living life full of experience and savoring every moment.


Kathleen Reeves is the community relations specialist at the Cobb Institute, and leads the Institute’s cohort program. She also serves on the communications team and assists with the Institute's social media messaging.

For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.

– William Penn

Change Begins With Me:
Steps Toward an Ecological Civilization

Transitioning towards an ecological civilization requires significant changes in human practices to mitigate environmental degradation and foster sustainable living. However, the magnitude of this shift can often feel overwhelming due to the entrenched nature of existing systems, societal inertia, and the complexity of global environmental challenges. We navigate a myriad of choices in our daily lives, from reducing personal carbon footprints to advocating for systemic policy changes. The scale of action required can seem daunting, as it necessitates widespread behavioral shifts, technological innovations, and institutional reforms across all sectors of society. Despite these challenges, embracing the urgency of the ecological crisis and collectively committing to transformative action offers hope for a future where human civilization harmonizes with, rather than exploits, the natural world, ensuring the well-being of present and future generations.

Don't let yourself be overwhelmed by the seemingly immovable structure of our society. Too much is at stake.


Photo by Markus Spiske

Here are some ways that you can make a positive difference:

Attainable Changes

  1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Practice the three R's to minimize waste generation and conserve resources.
  2. Conserve Water: Turn off taps when not in use, fix leaks, and use water-saving appliances.
  3. Save Energy: Switch off lights and appliances when not needed, use energy-efficient appliances, and opt for renewable energy sources where possible.
  4. Reduce Meat Consumption: Eating less meat, especially beef, can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with livestock farming.
  5. Use Public Transport or Carpool: Reduce carbon emissions by using public transportation, biking, walking, or carpooling.
  6. Plant Trees: Trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, making them crucial for combating climate change.
  7. Support Sustainable Brands: Choose products from companies committed to sustainability and eco-friendly practices.
  8. Reduce Plastic Use: Minimize single-use plastics by using reusable bags, bottles, and containers.
  9. Compost Organic Waste: Reduce landfill waste by composting food scraps and yard waste.
  10. Educate Others: Share knowledge about environmental issues and encourage others to adopt eco-friendly habits.
  11. Eat locally and seasonally.
  12. Grow your own fruit and vegetables.

Influencing Policy

  1. Vote Wisely: Research and vote for political candidates who prioritize environmental protection and sustainable policies.
  2. Contact Representatives: Write letters, make phone calls, or attend town hall meetings to express support for environmental legislation.
  3. Join Advocacy Groups: Join organizations working on environmental issues and participate in campaigns for policy change.
  4. Raise Awareness: Use social media and other platforms to raise awareness about environmental issues and the importance of policy action.
  5. Participate in Public Consultations: Engage in public consultations and provide input on proposed environmental policies and regulations.
  6. Support Lobbying Efforts: Contribute to lobbying efforts by supporting organizations that advocate for environmental policies at local, national, and international levels.
  7. Hold Corporations Accountable: Advocate for corporate responsibility and transparency regarding environmental practices, and support policies that regulate corporate environmental impact.
  8. Participate in Protests and Demonstrations: Join peaceful protests and demonstrations to demand action on environmental issues and pressure policymakers to prioritize sustainability.

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

– Edward Everett Hale

The Starfish Story

A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

She looked at him defiantly. Then she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference for that one!”

The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.

Adapted from "The Star Thrower," by Loren C. Eiseley


Photo courtesy Todd Trapani

Going, Going, Gone.

Ken Grunewald discovered his talent during the covid lockdown. Some of the drawings below are based on photos he took during his travels in Australia and the Peruvian Amazon. He also used photos of online objects as his drawing subjects. Some of these drawings are from a series Ken put together on things that used to be but are not now - going, going, gone.


Ken Grunewald grew up in a nomadic lifestyle. His father a career Air Force person, and Ken followed in his footsteps. As a result, he has lived in several states and four foreign countries. This gave him a broad world and an intense interest in and appreciation of other lands and cultures at an early age. He acted on this interest after retirement by traveling off the tourist grid to 40 different countries on six continents. Ken was an intelligence officer for the United States Air Force. After retirement he took a job with the state in the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, eventually becoming director of the agency. His art hobby is a newly discovered talent.

Spring passes and one remembers one's innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one's exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one's reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one's perseverance.

Yoko Ono

Process, Change and the New Cosmology

Today I was talking with my eight-year-old grandson, who asked me if he could print something you wouldn’t normally print on our copy machine. “Don’t ask me what!” Anyway, I used this as an opportunity to talk to him about how things have changed during my lifetime. I’m only seventy years old, and I know that John Cobb and Matthew Fox are even older and could tell you even more stories than I, but here is just an example of change in my life.

So, there I was, my grandson; all ears to hear what I would have to say. And what I said was, “When I was young, they didn’t even have copy machines.” If we wanted to copy writing, we needed carbon paper—and I remember teachers trying to speed things up with mimeograph machines. And that is just one area of change. How many other areas could people “our” age come up with? How about the price of gasoline = 25 cents per gallon, candy bars = 5 cents. Our first two story home, which was brand new, was just $24,000.00, my first car was just $300.00, and rent was just $250.00.

Oh, and on the other hand televisions had just come out—they were black and white, they had only a few stations, and were on only for certain hours per day. Telephones had what were called “party lines” where you had to share your phone line with another, or others, as a group. There were no calculators, or computers or cell phones, etc. etc. That has all come since we have been alive. We also saw the atomic and hydrogen bombs go off.

When I think of change in the context of process thought, the process community tends to refer to change as process, whereas in the Creation Spirituality community we speak of evolutionary cosmology. In both cases, however, I think we are both saying that ultimate reality is not made up of things, but of processes and inter-connecting relationships. And if you have children or grandchildren, you can simply quote Heraclitus, an ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher from the city of Ephesus. Little is known of Heraclitus's life, though he was known as the “weeping philosopher.” He wrote a single work, only fragments of which have survived. He is famous for saying: “You cannot step into the same river twice.”

In 1997, I began my studies at Matthew Fox’s University of Creation Spirituality, in downtown Oakland. When I opened up the door, there was a long staircase going up to the office, library, and classrooms. However, upon climbing the stairs, one was already beginning his or her learning experience in terms of the “New Cosmology.” The reason for this is that there was a mural that ran from the bottom of the stairs to the top. On the wall it began at the bottom with the “Big Bang,” and went all the way through creation until, in the last fraction of an inch, one would see the minuscule amount of time that humans have lived on this planet. And more than this, every student that passed through those doors at the bottom of the stairs would be required to take the “New Cosmology” as one of their core classes in the Doctor of Ministry Studies in Creation Spirituality.

And cosmology is where it all begins for Creation Spirituality—it begins with the Bible’s first creation story as it is recorded in the first chapter of Genesis, in which the refrain rings throughout this litany of creation, “It was good,” and then, at the end of the first six days it says, “It was very good.” From this we see that God created the world with “Original Blessing.”[i][ii]

As I said earlier, doctoral students in the program were required to take the class titled, “The New Cosmology.” In this class we used as our text a book by cosmologist Brian Swimme and “geologian” Thomas Berry titled, The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era.[iii] This book begins with the “Big Bang,” then goes on through the formation of Galaxies, Supernovas, the Sun, the Earth, eukaryotes, plants and animals, human emergence, neolithic village, classical civilizations, the rise of nations and the “Ecozoic era where existence itself is derived from and sustained by this intimacy of each being with every other being of the universe.

Because of our common concern for the environment, which exists as a delicate interconnected web, and our understanding of a panentheistic God who is not removed from creation, but is within creation, and creation is within God (See: Acts 17:28).

One final thing on change, and that is the “Big One” for a Christian, because that is what “repentance” is all about. For scripture says that unless we repent and are baptized, we will not be saved. Now in most cases people think of repentance as being really sorry for your sins, and so much so that they want to change their course by one hundred and eighty degrees. This is because most ministers say that repentance means to change one’s course.

Worse yet is when one confuses repentance with penance, which is something very different. What penance is, is when one goes to confession in a Catholic Church, and confesses one’s sins, the priest absolves one of their sins, though they still must pay for their penalty by doing penance—doing some kind of punishment for their sins. Repentance or metanoia instead means to change one’s mind, or way of thinking.

Another issue with repentance is that the whole idea that if unless we repent and are baptized we will not be saved is so self-focused. In the Creation Spirituality community, we see that even more important than our own personal salvation is, at this point in world’s history, to think of social and ecological salvation for our planet!

I think that there are many people in both of our respective communities who see a lot of room for people to even change their way of thinking in terms of the new things we know today. It’s time for a new vision of the earth and the cosmos which we are a part of, and of all reality, which is interconnected. When people see God as panentheistic, to not care about creation is to not care about God, for to not to see all things in God and God in all things, is to ignore what is right in front of you.

I turned 70 last year, and the Lord be willing, I will turn 71 this year. As I have said, I have seen many changes in my lifetime, but I too have changed a number of times as well.


Staircase at University of Creation Spirituality

Fox staircase

[i] Original Blessing is Matthew Fox’s original primer in creation spirituality.  Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, New York.  1983/2000.

[ii] From the Introduction from my book, Creation Spirituality:  A Theology. Trafford Publishing.  2023.

[iii] HarperOne 1992

Rev. Dr. Richard E. Kuykendall is a retired United Church of Christ minister and the author of fifteen books including, The Dream Life of Jesus, A Curmudgeon’s Commentary of the Book of Revelation, The Way of the Earth, and Creation Spirituality: A Theology.

What's in a Name?

I met Cypress in the early days of the Cobb Institute. Back then Cypress had a different name. I have learned much more about “becoming” from Cypress than I would have otherwise. I am grateful for the gifts Cypress brings to their ministry. I wanted to share their story with you because it is a rich and beautiful story of recognizing the beauty within and stepping into that beauty every day.

-Kat Reeves

Tell me a little about yourself (possible info: age, location, school, personal theology, goals)

My name is Cypress (they/them), and I am a student at Iliff School of Theology where I study pastoral and spiritual care. I am also a member-in-discernment in the United Church of Christ, which is our process of discerning a call to ministry. As the resident “Pentecostal to Process theist” at seminary, my theological interests pertain to chaplaincy, queer theology, and process theology, all of which have led me to my theological hero: W. Norman Pittenger.


Cypress (They/Them)

You changed your name recently to Cypress. What is the significance of choosing that specific name over other options?

One thing I should say here is that I am gay, and that has informed how I carry myself as a queer person in Kansas. Coming out in a Pentecostal context was unpleasant, to say the least, so exploring my sexuality and discovering what that could look like for me was limited and risky. Being gay has taught me that coming out is never a one-time event. You come out again and again in different places with different people. I first came out as bisexual, it felt safer to say. Over time, I came out as gay which felt far more authentic. As you note, recently I changed my name to Cypress. This is because I came out again, this time about my gender identity rather than my sexuality: I am non-binary.

You might be wondering, what does that mean? Being non-binary just means that I do not ascribe, endorse, or participate in a gender binary that reduces me to only either “man” or “woman.” Gender identity simply refers to the way that I describe myself on the gender spectrum. Gender identity, then, is different but related to gender expression, which is the way that folks present themselves. For example, I am non-binary and I use they/them pronouns, that is my gender identity. Currently, I express myself in traditionally masculine ways which makes me look male. In fact, most people don’t pick up that I am non-binary, but that is largely because I dress and present myself as a cisgender male.

Choosing this name represents the progress I’ve made in deciding to no longer put off the self-creativity and gender exploration I was denied in my youth. At times, rethinking my fashion feels like high school all over again; so many new and awkward things to experience for the first time. If only I had recognized earlier that we can simply try on names until we figure it out. Even though the name you pick may not be final, and Cypress wasn’t my first chosen name as I went by my initials for so long, it can feel so final and scary putting out something like that for others to know you as. The pressure to get it right can be immense at first.

When I was looking, after deciding I’d put it off long enough and the initials weren’t cutting it, I looked for names online. I couldn’t find any names that I liked, so I narrowed my search. I knew that I wanted a name that was not culturally appropriative or disrespectful, and yet I wanted something that was based on nature. Names like River, Lavender, and Snow were all unique and lovely names, yet they weren’t just right. Then, I found the cypress tree, which is found on every single continent and shows up looking different ways in different places; which seemed fitting, I thought. The versatility of the name Cypress also helped, as I could go by Cy or Cypress. The name was based off of something found in nature, which was important to me, and it was unique enough that I knew I wouldn’t likely run into another with the same name.

What does a name change mean to you on a deeper level?

In Bible, we see Saul become Paul. Quite literally, Paul has his “come to Jesus” moment on the road to Damascus and changes his name to signify this (trans)formation into a new understanding of who he is and how he will live. In many ways, this has come to affect how Christians understand themselves and their role as members of the Church. From monastic orders throughout Christian history to the Pope himself, taking on a new name has signified and reflected a personal commitment to devote one’s life to a cause. This idea alone is not really about being trans, to be clear, but I think it’s one important aspect of how I see myself situated in a faith system that values a person’s name reflecting their new identity and values.

I also know that the truth about my former name (also known as a dead name) is that I received it merely to disrupt the possibility of getting a third David Joseph in the family. To know that my name was chosen for the pure reason of not being the same as my dad is another reason that I don’t find my dead name to be meaningful. Choosing Cypress as my name has meant reclaiming the time and energy I denied myself in youth because of fear. It has also been a way of reclaiming who I am, rather than who I am not.

Can you explain for our readers about a discarded name and how it is received when someone uses this former name when speaking to you.

This is one of those aspects of being transgender/gender non-conforming that we understand as being unique to each person, so you will often find folks feel differently about this. For me, my dead name almost doesn’t feel like it’s referring to me anymore. I no longer recognize it as mine. When I hear it, or when I’m referred to as “him,” I don’t get upset or really feel bothered either. I understand that choosing to continue to express my gender as masculine benefits me and affords me privilege. There is far less risk for me to be out when I could deny that I am non-binary if needed.

Not only this, but many folks think that being non-binary is something you can look at someone and tell. This is not so. Again, non-binary is a gender identity. How you express your gender identity is up to you.

Though this is the case, we cannot forget that our gender intersects with many if not all other facets of our identity. Gender identity and gender expression are not the same, and I am valid in claiming to be non-binary while not dressing any differently than I had before, and the point about privilege is true at the same time. Being called Cypress with they/them pronouns has affirmed my sense of self enough to feel like I am able to explore what gender expressions I yearn for so I’ve been exploring makeup, rethinking my wardrobe, and trying to be less reserved about who I am. Not only is it fun, but it’s healing.

All transgender and gender non-conforming folks know that this journey could honestly end with deciding that it isn’t for you and that you actually are cisgender after all. Almost always, however, the choice to begin this journey is an act of self-care that fosters a sense of affirmation and belonging. Calling someone by their chosen name demonstrates compassion and respect for the journey they are on in determining for themselves who they want to be. When my loved ones call me Cypress, it’s so much of a gift that it changes my whole day for the better.


Photo courtesy ameenfahmy

In process terms, we are constantly becoming. Does that idea resonate with you when considering your name change?

Oh yes, definitely. As I came out of a fundamentalist Pentecostal tradition and into process theology, I was exposed to Jules Lequyer by my philosophy professor Donald Wayne Viney. I’ll never forget a quote from Lequyer that reads, “God, who created me creator of myself.” That quote is more about free will, but I think it applies here as well.

I believe transgender and gender non-conforming folks embody the concept of becoming as it relates to gender: to consider one’s identity realistically is to consider who they are in relation to other people, places, and things. Gender identity is inherently relational in its consideration of the references to gender, primarily pronouns. To name an identity for one’s self is to consider how one wants to be called or known as by another person.

I’ve always really liked an example I encountered in Bob Mesle’s introduction to process theology, where God is understood as a flute player in a jazz band that we can all choose how we play in. When you think of that metaphor, what really makes the “noise” in the band? Is it the words we say or the actions we do? Perhaps the way we treat others or ourselves? What if the sounds we play in that ensemble are the totality of all of that and more, and our names and gender can be important parts of how we understand ourselves as part of something larger? For me, becoming Cypress has helped me to take off some of the “armor” I made so I could survive homophobia and violence, trusting that I am safe now. Becoming Cypress has helped me heal some of the baggage of my fundamentalist upbringing and discover new ways of being queer and Christian. Most importantly, becoming Cypress has created opportunities for all kinds of new friends and communities that I now am a beloved part of, and this has been the biggest blessing of the entire journey.

There is nothing permanent except change.

– Heraclitus

Transformations: Poetic Expressions

The Long Now

by Lynn Sargent De Jonghe

Buried underground
in a desert mountainside
a clock designed
to run for 10,000 years
embodies deep time
ticks once a year
its century hand advances
over a hundred years
its chimes ring gravely
every millennium.

Less than two hundred
parched miles away
another millennium
timepiece ticks
its relentless rhythm
vast stores of nuclear waste
buried two thousand feet deep
survive radioactive half-life
by half-life to the solemn
clicks of Geiger counters.

Meanwhile scientists conspire
with poets and artists creating fearsome
mythic messages still meaningful
in 10,000 years to keep hapless
forms of future life from stumbling
onto nuclear killing fields
Spike Fields thrust up
ominous stone pikes
Thorn Landscapes convey menace
by fifty-foot concrete barbs.

Most humans know
long nows of eighty-five
years–a mere six hundred
thousand minutes
but some few despite
deepening darkness
mounting heat
encroaching warfare
rising seas
growing barbarism
may still look forward
to a longer now.



Buried underground: The Clock of the Long Now is the brainchild of Stewart Brand (Whole Earth Catalog) and Danny Hillis. In the words of Brand, “Ideally, it would do for thinking about time what the photographs of Earth from space have done for thinking about the environment. Such icons reframe the way people think.” It is slated to be constructed in an area of ancient Bristlecone pines near Ely, Nevada. Meanwhile, The Clock of the Long Now prototype is located in a mountain near Van Horn Texas, on a ranch owned by Jeff Bezos.

Two thousand feet deep: The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) is the nation's only deep geologic long-lived radioactive waste repository. Located 26 miles southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico, WIPP permanently isolates defense-generated transuranic (TRU) waste 2,150 feet underground in an ancient salt formation.

Meanwhile scientists confer: Scientists, artists, and poets were asked, "How would it be possible to inform our descendants for the next 10,000 years about the storage locations and dangers of radioactive waste?" The Spike Field and Thorn Landscape and their ominous elements are from a 1992 report by Sandia National Laboratories for the US Department of Energy. (Lynn’s husband, Lutgard C. De Jonghe served on a panel contributing to this study.)

The Clock of the Long Now Chimes were created by Brain Eno. For more information visit the Long Now Foundation website.

Listen to Brian Eno's beautiful "Bell Studies For The Clock."

Fourth Daughter

by Veronica Michalowski

For months your abdomen feels
it is being tightened by a rubber band.

Cervical cancer quickly travels
to your ovaries, bladder
some lymph nodes
migrates to your spinal cord
spots on lungs.

In three years you have ten surgeries
muster all ancestral strength
to maintain a positive public persona.
You will not allow tears from anyone—not
friends, care-givers, not us—no one may cry.

The chemo—icy fire bolts
in your veins—takes too long to drip.
Blankets cannot stop shivering teeth, blue lips.
It takes days to recover, to cease vomiting,
to keep even water in your system.

Your thoughts slow, forget words,
constantly in pain, tired. Steps are halting,
assist with a walker, give up driving
become more and more isolated,
lose your thick, curly hair.

You stand your ground
for ten years, intimidating
the cancer into remission
just long enough to unbolt a cell and
let the dementia monster slither in.


This Casting Off

by Ellen Livingston

Is an act of will, a reasoned, reasonable act,
An unburdening, a sizing down, allowing space
Around the passing of time between what was, what now is
A late solitary picking out among piles of possessions:
Yellowed, withered papers, journals, greeting cards , diplomas, family pictures, photo albums from trips abroad, dried wedding bouquet

Clues of a long life, all items time-bound, borrowed, never truly owned
Souvenirs of sojourns on this earth, sources of joy, work, blessings, regrets
Tossed into the rubbish or recycling bin while heart beats on,
Letting go, releasing, with only silent, often tear-filled goodbyes,
Remembering and forgetting.

Outside, soft and downy jacaranda trees, covered with
Blossoms like bouquets of lavender fall silently
Melting into the ground, turning sticky brown and gray.
Remembering and forgetting

Certainly these fading trees will bloom again next summer
Then release each fragile flower falling like
A silent offering to waiting earth while we need only
Remember and forget.

Prague, 1998

by Kathleen Reeves

The train ride was long
I carried a rose called
freedom pressed between
the pages of Neruda

autumn was yours
we walked rainy streets
our reflection on wet
melted together
washed away

you covered my eyes
so I could use other senses
you wanted me to smell
the wild rosemary
plant of remembrance

there was music
always music
yet so much silence
we talked with our hands
and had much to say

now even our hands
are silent


Photo courtesy Roman Kraft

The Day After

by Georgette Unis

It comes in the mail
a photograph on the catalogue cover
missive like a dream
with no address of origin

The centered light gilds clouds
radiates golden across a still lake
where fishermen gather on shore

One holds a rainbow trout
its gills outlined in yellow
and other iridescent colors

A row of houses and trees
appear in shadow
between the sky and water
a slightly familiar
mirror image

On this day after a holiday gathering
I wonder whether these places
are where I have been or
where I am to go

Shall I play the weary elder
sit on a bench and
my history

or shall I prepare
for the next holiday
purchase gifts
set the table

When I turn this page
will I determine
whether the message is about
dawn or dusk

Many and One

by Mary Elizabeth Moore

From generous drops
of water-soaked sky
and countless flakes of snow,
a river begins to form.
Rills of melted ice
merge in rivulets
and larger streams
until the mighty river rumbles,
roars down the
furrowed mountainside.
It spreads as lace, tinkles
as a bell, crashes like a gong,
flowing into one,
mingling with fjord
and open sea.


Music can change the world because it can change people.

– Bono

On the Topic of Change


The Case For Being Nobody

By Andre van Zijl  | February 23, 202

At the Cobb Institute Andre van Zijl is somebody. He is our Visual Arts Laureate and a regular attendee at many of the gatherings. But what Andre desires most of all is to be “nobody.” Inspired by the teachings of Ramakrishna, the 19th-century mystic and spiritual teacher, Andre has strived for ego transcendence and spiritual humility. By recognizing the transient nature of the self and surrendering personal desires and attachments, one can attain a state of egolessness where the boundaries between oneself and the universe blur, leading to a profound sense of oneness with all existence. This is not attained without struggle and suffering. Here Andre shares his story of his journey through the dark night of the soul and the lessons learned from the other side of ego.

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Facing the Fading of Becoming

By Richard Livingston | May 16, 2022

To understand the truth about reality is a common human impulse. And one of the many ways to satisfy that desire is the creation of and reflection on religious symbols. The most powerful sacred symbols have the capacity to illuminate not only the meaning of our lives but also the nature of our world. This piece considers one such symbol, and the beautifully tragic truth that it evokes.


Stepping in the River

By John Roedel | July 15, 2022

Comedian turned poet John Roedel takes on his journey of “becoming” with a surprising number of vocations. Roedel has been changed along the way. He is going with the flow because as Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice. For it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”


Healing Epiphanies of Harmony

By Kathleen Reeves | March 15, 2022

We all have memories and places that inspired wonder and adventure in our childhood. As time passes we grow and change and so do the places of our younger years. As the world around us becomes more developed, some of the wild places from our formative years get paved over. This is a story about one of those places, and why we should grieve such losses.

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A Work in Process: Seeing Possibilities Instead of Roadblocks

By Clarence Graham White | August 1, 2023

Clarence White is retiring this year after enjoying a rich career, a career that others predicted he could never have. Clarence also has a devoted wife and family, a family that others also predicted he could never have. Clarence has Cerebral Palsy, and the “others” who doubted his potential were proven wrong. He had possibilities they couldn’t see. In this piece he talks about embracing those possibilities even as new challenges present themselves. Clarence inspires us to focus on our dreams and goals and trust in our own subjective aims.

A Soundtrack for Change

Music played a pivotal role in inspiring and mobilizing people during the peace movement and civil rights struggles. With powerful lyrics and stirring melodies, songs became anthems of hope, unity, and resistance. Artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Pete Seeger lent their voices to the causes, using folk music to articulate the yearning for change and equality. Songs like "Blowin' in the Wind" and "We Shall Overcome" became rallying cries, fostering a sense of solidarity among activists and ordinary citizens alike. Music provided a soundtrack to the protests, marches, and sit-ins, amplifying the message of peace and justice. It served as a unifying force, transcending barriers of race, class, and ideology, and inspiring people to stand up against oppression and injustice. Through its power to evoke emotion and stir the soul, music became an indispensable tool in the fight for change for the common good. The Cobb Institute Music in Process Cohort  has been discussing this and sharing favorite recordings. Here are a few.

Adventures in Reading

Seeing Change: Four Views

The question of how change occurs over time has inspired philosophy, literature, art, music, and science throughout history. Each of the four books discussed here each explores the process of change by means of the graphic and visual arts. Created over two millennia, each in its own way also represents an essential collaborative effort.

Painting of Fu xi looking at a trigram
sketch, Guo Xu, Ming dynasty

I Ching

The great Chinese classic, the I Ching, Book of Changes consists of 64 hexagrams of whole and broken lines together with commentary about their meanings. Although found in written format on silk scrolls at the beginning of the modern, the Western Chou (1,000 to 750 BCE) it dates back much earlier to stone carvings and the casting of yarrow straws to predict the future. Like the Bible, the I Ching was written over hundreds of years by many different contributors. Also like the Bible, its interpretation keeps changing as society and scholarship evolve.

According to ancient belief, the legendary emperor Fi xi created eight trigrams (☰, ☱, ☲, ☳, ☴, ☵, ☶, ☷) consisting of straight and broken lines to symbolize the ebb and flow of the yin and the yang cosmic forces. From these trigrams, one can construct 64 six-line hexagrams, each composed of a lower trigram and an upper trigram, to symbolize the unfolding of the universe.

Since Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty declared the I Ching as a classic in 135 BCE, this work has been the subject of Taoist, Confucian, Neo-Confucian, and modern schools of critical thought. The commentaries developed in the first thousand years after the canonization of the Changes tended to focus on its  cosmological and humanistic implications according to their views of societal relationships.

In contrast, the Neo-Confucianist scholar, Zhu Xi (1130–1200) argued that the classic had never been read properly as a divination manual. Instead, Zhu Xi believed that the true meaning of Changes lay in the imagery of the 64 hexagrams. For him, the sixty-four hexagrams are the foundation of the Changes because they are symbols of the constant changes in the natural and human worlds.   His interpretation has greatly influenced the current writing of Jeremy Lent (The Web of Meaning, 2021).

As each school of scholarship has leant its interpretations to the I Ching, so also has each approach influenced western translations of the classic. The Princeton translation by German Sinologists Richard Wilhelm, Cary Baynes and Hellmut Wilhelm (Princeton, 1967) tends to follow Zhu xi’s Neo-Confucian approach. Jeremy Lent finds this perspective helpful as we seek to find our way forward in our challenging times.

Despite its multiple authors and divergent layers, however, the I Ching  remains focused on the question of how to live meaningful, responsible lives, given that we have no full knowledge of ourselves and our surroundings due to the constant changes in the world. Philosopher Tze-Ki Hon comments on the enduring relevance of this classic. "By emphasizing our need to make difficult decisions in the world of constant changes," the authors of Changes suggest that the task of "balancing the competing claims and finding certainty in an uncertain world are going to be continuous without end." (Source)

Spring Cannot Be Canceled

My second selection was created over 2000 years later by famed artist David Hockney with the collaboration of his longtime friend, art critic Martin Gayford. In Spring Cannot Be Cancelled (2021), Hockney presents his joyous, bigger picture of life triumphant as an antidote to the depression of the COVID shutdown. Now 86 years old, Hockney chose to leave his beloved Yorkshire home in Bridlington and relocate in a century old farmhouse in Normandy, where he found the weather and local society plus agréable. In Normandy he walks, works, and paints vigorously, inspired by the local landscape. Following Monet, he has created a water garden on the property and paints its changes on a daily basis. The book is filled with his ebullient painting. It is also a rich sharing of the artistic influences on his art, from medieval sacred art to cubism. Most importantly, Spring is filled with Hockney’s adventurous and optimistic spirit as he explores new technologies as well as ancient tools, asking how these can contribute to his artistic enterprise. To read this book is to engage in the adventure of process philosophy as art.


As Hockney says,

"Every time I do a still life, I get very excited and realize that there are a thousand things here I can see! The more I look and think about it, the more I see. These simple little things are unbelievably rich. A lot of people have forgotten that. But you can remind them." (p. 122)

Martin Gayford agrees:

"An artist can find enjoyment and poetry in the most unpromising chunk of stone. Recently I’ve been reading a book called The Planet in a Pebble by Jan Zalasiewicz, which takes at its starting point a rounded piece of Welsh slate. The author goes on to find in the stone’s constituent materials the entire genealogical development of the Earth, over billions of years, and before that, the origins of the Solar system, and so all the way back to the Big Bang." (p. 122)

In his chapter Everything Flows, Hockney compares his experience painting to the concept of flow developed by Csikszentmihalyi:

"It’s true painting every day wouldn’t suit everybody, but it suits me. If you do that, you live in the now. . . . I think longevity is a by-product of a harmonious life. What makes for a harmonious life differs from person to person, but I think there must be some harmony in it if you live to be older: you have to find you own rhythm."

The Warped Side of Our Universe

The next book is a collaboration between an astrophysicist and an artist. Nobel laureate Kip Thorne and local artist Lia Halloran have created a work of art in book form to describe the intellectual cooperation that went into the investigation of dark matter and gravitational waves. Thorne and Halloran worked on their book for over ten years. The Warped Side of Our Universe: An Odyssey Through Black Holes, Worm Holes, Time Travel and Gravitational Waves (Liveright, 2023), explores phenomena from warped space and time, colliding black holes and collapsing wormholes to twisting space vortices and down-cascading time. The book guides us through the research into these concepts, including the work on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, that led to the 2017 Nobel Prize. It also offers a glimpse at the work ahead that physicists hope will reveal more about the birth of the universe. How did the universe begin? Can anything travel backward in time?

The book is notable in its conjunction of painting and poetry to explain profoundly complex concepts of astrophysics. Part way through the writing of the book, Thorne made the decision to put his commentary into the form of blank verse. In the course of rereading his notes, Thorne discovered that they often read like black verse, so he decided to reframe the entire book using this format. This decision led to a richer collaboration between the author and the artist illustrator resulting in a work that is genuinely unique.


More experienced poets might question reviewers’ descriptions of Thorne’s verse as “epic,” especially given the author’s youthful admiration of the poems of Robert Service, (“there are strange things done in the midnight sun”). However, the poetic format does allow the astronomer to honestly portray some of the difficulties the scientists encountered in their collaboration. Not known to be lacking in ego, Thorne nevertheless acknowledges with admirable integrity his debt to physicist Raimer Weiss at MIT, as well as the “intense political struggles and explosive personal conflicts” that threatened to derail the LIGO project. He generously credits team leader Caltech’s Barry Borish for understanding that the success of LIGO Project would “require a far, far larger team than we had imagined, a thousand strong, plucked from more than a dozen lands, a grand international quest.” (p. 164)


As for the paintings of Lia Halloran, I personally found her touching portraits of Carl Sagan, David Hawkins, Weiss, and Einstein more striking than her abstract portrayals of black holes and worm holes. Similarly, those searching for understanding of these phenomena might prefer the more lucid prose of Carlo Rovelli or Roger Penrose. However, this laudably brave effort can serve to inspire others experimenting with new ways to describe the cosmological processes of change.


My final selection is a collaboration between the great Chinese conceptual artist and cultural dissident, Ai Weiwei, and two Italian graphic artists, Elettra Stamboulis and Gianluca Costantini.


In celebration of the dawning of the Year of the Dragon, Ai Weiwei has released Zodiac, A Graphic Memoir (2024), composed of scenes from his career, his childhood and his family life. Each chapter frames the artist’s take on traditional beliefs about the characteristics humans share with the 12 animals of the Chinese lunar calendar. Gianluca Costantini’s intricate line drawings pair with Elettra Stamboulis’s comic-bubble text to help expand Ai’s lifelong campaign for free expression to a new medium for a new generation. His memoir shares real events, such as hanging out with Allen Ginsberg in 1980s Greenwich Village, and imagined events, such as debating Chinese leader, Xi Jinping.

This new memoir recalls his massive work featuring 12 bronze animal heads that represent the traditional Chinese zodiac and have been touring internationally since 2011. That work is based on the original 12 animals created for the fountain-clock of the Yuanming Yuan, Beijing’s summer palace. Only seven of the original heads have been found and returned to China with the rest still lost to looters in the 1860 Opium War. Weiwei’s sculptures represent transformations by way of exile, migration, and intentional change of geographical location. The artist himself has been forced into exile in his childhood. In 2011, as a result of his critique of the Chinese government, Ai was arrested, detained for 81 days, and had his passport confiscated until July 2015. During this period, each head was hooded in solidarity with the artist’s protest of China’s treatment of human rights. Now living in exile, Ai Weiwei remains as controversial as ever in his commitment to freedom. Last month his exhibition protesting the war in Gaza was removed in both its German and American venues.

The book, however, is as gentle and loving as it is forceful. In Zodiac, Ai Weiwei teaches his son, Ai Lao, the legend of the Jade Emperor creating the calendar. He uses this story to explain the nature of time to his child, much as his imprisoned poet father did for him, and in his telling the two children often overlap in the pictures. As Ai Weiwei puts it:

Some say time is only an illusion. The illusion can be painful, or it can be happy. Some live in the past, and some struggle in the present. Someone may have no future. It’s hard to explain what time is about. The new generation needs some kind of reference when we talk about time. I can talk about the years I lived in Xinjiang, or the time my father was dying so I moved back to China from New York. You really need events to illustrate time. My son will turn 15 soon, so his time will be in China, then Germany, then England. That’s how he’ll understand it.

In his tender evocation of the recurring elements of his life with that of his father and son, Ai Weiwei has brought into being once again, the wisdom of the I Ching:

  • to see the universe is an open system, self-generative and self-transformative
  • to accept that because changes take place all the time, we need to study their patterns and learn to navigate their complexity, and
  • to recognize that we must be ready to make courageous decisions to find harmony and meaning in life.

Each of these four books has used art and graphic symbols to address the process of time and change. And interestingly, each has found this approach to involve a spirit of collaboration. Perhaps that is because the process of change involves so many strands of interrelated phenomena that it is best is perceived as a process of harmonies. And a process of harmonies requires different voices. I believe that Whitehead would concur.

Dr. Lynn De Jonghe’s 40 years of experience with progressive education and a long-time fascination with the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and process thought have come together in her book, Starting With Whitehead: Raising Children to Thrive in Turbulent Times. Lynn Received her BA degree in History from Harvard University and MS in Library Science from Simmons College before completing her PhD in Education at Cornell University.

The Becoming of a Bard: The Myth of Taliesin

Taliesin was an early Brittonic poet of Sub-Roman Britain whose work has possibly survived in a Middle Welsh manuscript, the Book of Taliesin. Taliesin was a renowned bard who is believed to have sung at the courts of at least three kings.

Awen is a Welsh, Cornish, and Breton word for "inspiration" (and typically poetic inspiration). In Welsh mythology, awen is the inspiration of the poets, or bards; or, in its personification, Awen is the inspirational muse of creative artists in general.

What Taliesin teaches us is that, as Walt Whitman wrote centuries later, I am large, I contain multitudes. We are like Taliesin, constantly changing.


Artist: Emanuel Murant (Dutch, Amsterdam 1622–1700)

I was in a multitude of forms before I was unfettered.

– Taliesin, Kat Godeu, The Battle of the Trees

The story of Taliesin begins with the Goddess Ceridwen and her husband, Tegid Foel. They had twin children: Creirwy, whose name means "the most beautiful maiden," and Morfran, sometimes called Avagddu, which means "utter darkness," or "the most ill-favored man."

Morfran was doomed and fated with such ugliness that his mother couldn’t bear to look at him. She wanted to help her hideous son with his lot in life, so, to compensate Morfran for his ugliness, she looked for a spell to bestow upon him the gift of Awen. She loved her son and was willing to do anything to make a better life for him. One day she mounted her white horse and traveled across the countryside and up treacherous mountain trails to the secret monastery of alchemist monks at Dinas Afferaon. They allowed her to search the books of recipes and spells.

After much study, she found a spell to brew a magical cauldron of Inspiration. The spell called for herbs, roots, and flowers, some precious, some seasonal, some rare, and some from far reaching fields. Certain herbs had to be gathered at a particular time of day, or when the moon was full. It took a long time to gather these ingredients. Sometimes she was away for months to locate the rare ingredients. Once gathered, they must boil in a portion of water from the first melting of the season’s freshly thawed snow. She went to a great metalsmith to forge a giant cauldron in which to create the magical brew. This potion must be stirred as it boils for a year and a day, and none can be spilled, not one drop or she must begin again as the magic will be released within the spillage. She found an old shack hidden in the woods near a stream in which to place her cauldron. She carefully added the ingredients and lit the flame.


Artist: John William Waterhouse. 1849-1917, Italy.

Ceridwen was a Witch Goddess who had the great gifts of creating: the skill of magic, and the wisdom of making. Now she knew she could not attend to the potion constantly and it had to be guarded lest some spill out, so she set out to find some servants to stir and guard for the year and a day. In the woods not far from her hidden shack, she found a blind man called Morda and a child named Gwion Bach. They agreed to stay in the shack never leaving the cauldron unattended for the specified time, a year, and a day. The cauldron boiled day after day, steeping in wisdom and beginning the process to bring forth the Awen.

The cauldron in the little shack had boiled for one year. The routine had fallen into place over this year. Morda went out to collect more wood for the fire; even though he was blind, he could find his way, with memory and his cane.  Gwion Bach stayed at the shack. One had to stay and watch the cauldron because the potion was never without a guardian. This became the duty of Gwion Bach because he always got too distracted when he went to collect firewood. He would climb trees or watch the fish swimming in the stream. His curiosity distracted him from his task. Out of frustration, the elder Morda decided not to send Gwion Bach into the forest anymore. So Gwion Bach stayed and watched over the cauldron.

Jack Yates

Artist: Jack B. Yeats, 1871 - 1957

Although accustomed to the simple shack, Gwion Bach was always curious and distracted. He found it difficult to watch the cauldron because there were so many things to look at. He had made friends with the spider in the corner. He marveled at her as she created intricate patterns when she first spun the web and he never tired of watching her. Then there was a squirrel that lived in the tree just outside the shack. He was always busy gathering acorns. What Gwion Bach loved to see the most was when the squirrel would leap from tree to tree. Cussing and cursing as was his custom, the old man returned late and stoked the fire. He was a very wise man and often gave guidance to young Gwion Bach, but he was also a cynical old man. He has experienced much in life, some good, some bad. This made him skeptical and guarded.

He stirred the pot for the third and final time, feeling the anticipation of the next day when the potion would be finished, and this responsibility would be over. Soon tiredness overtook him. At midnight, when the first minutes of the final day arrived what looked like a bolt of lightning struck the cauldron. The fire flared up and the extra heat caused the brew to boil fiercely. Gwion Bach was curious to see the bubbling potion, so he climbed up on his stool and looked over the rim of the cauldron. He saw the bubbles rise to the surface and pop over and over. To him it was hypnotic.

Suddenly one of the bubbles popped and splattered, shooting potion into the air with 3 drops landing on his thumb. Out of both pain and reflex he retracted his hand and brought his thumb to his mouth to soothe the burn. In an instant the boy’s body was permeated with a glow as if he was lit from inside. The brew collapsed within itself, the cauldron cracked and broke in half. Not even a single drop remained. Gwion Bach felt suddenly different. He felt aware. He felt a peaceful feeling come over him and his heart that was already a loving heart filled to overflowing.

Poetic words spilled into his head for every sight that entered his gaze. He looked out of the doorway to the shack and saw the surrounding trees that had always been there. But now, he was aware of them in a different way. He felt them. He felt the earth under his feet and when he took a step, he felt as if he was walking on a net, but he was part of the web, he was attached by his own being which reached out with his light body, as if to hold hands with other light bodies of other species. He had a knowing, an awareness. He walked toward the door but did not feel dead dusty earth under his feet. Rather, he felt movement with each step. He felt life moving with him.

He stepped on waves that kept him anchored and he felt the air around him, holding him up the way a parent holds a child as they take their first steps. He felt this support and love in every molecule. He was experiencing each second one at a time yet all together he had Awen. He held his hands up and got lost in the patterns and lines that were books telling him stories.

Morda stirred from his sleep and upon noticing the empty cauldron let out a cry of shock. Gwion Bach woke from his hypnotic euphoria and looked up to see a red headed woman on a white horse approaching. It was time; the year and a day was up, and she came for the potion that should be ready. She, with the strength of a mother, came for what she needed for her child...

Said the sun to the moon,
You cannot stay.

Says the moon to the waters,
All is flowing.

Says the fields to the grass,
Seed-time and harvest,
Chaff and grain.

You must change said,
Said the worm to the bud,
Though not to a rose,

Petals fade
That wings may rise
Borne on the wind.

You are changing
said death to the maiden, your wan face
To memory, to beauty.

Are you ready to change?
Says the thought to the heart, to let her pass
All your life long

For the unknown, the unborn
In the alchemy
Of the world's dream?

You will change,
says the stars to the sun,
Says the night to the stars.

(Kathleen Jessie Raine)

Cerridwen knew exactly what had transpired as she rode up to the shack. She felt the Awen as it entered Gwion, who put his thumb to his lips and tasted the “knowing.” Cerridwen’s anger turned into rage, and it poisoned the stream, sunk into the earth and killed the trees in the woods surrounding the shack. Her rage built as her horse galloped toward the boy.

She was furious now that Gwion Bach had taken the three drops meant for Avagddu. Gwion Bach was so awake and aware that he felt her anger like a fire coming from her heart. He knew instantly that he must escape.

As Ceridwen descended on him, Gwion with his newfound powers, had only to think in his mind of running fast and instantly he became a hare and ducked under the brush. Not to be thwarted however, Ceridwen shapeshifted into a greyhound and continued pursuit, mouth foaming and open with sharp teeth ready to clamp down. As she closed in on the boy, her teeth almost touching his tail, he jumped into a stream and became a fish, flowing with the water, swimming fast with every bend and turn of the channel. Ceridwen followed and became an otter, sharp claws ready to grasp, reaching with the fire of her rage. As her paws brushed his scales, Gwion jumped out of the water and became a wren, only to be followed by Ceridwen who became the swifter bird as hawk. Darting up and falling again like a violent ballet they twisted and turned in the chase. Finally, Gwion spied a pile of winnowed grain and dove into it while changing into a grain himself. He thought that he was well hidden, but Ceridwen became a hen and pecked her way through the grain, eventually managing to swallow Gwion.

Cerridwen’s rage was destructive. As a hen, she would intend to kill Gwion, the grain of wheat now in her belly. But the boy was in the process of transformation within Cerridwen’s womb. In the spiral of time and after the fullness of the light of nine full moons, she would give birth. She knew this child to be Gwion and waited for her time to finally kill him. But, once he was reborn, he was a babe, so fair beyond any, and she fell in love with this child of light. She had not the heart to kill him outright. Anger can be tempered and calmed with love, and the heart can soften. So, when Ceridwen saw her child, her anger subsided. Gwion has been transformed and reborn. To gain knowledge or understanding, it is necessary to "die" or at least give up your previous form, as Gwion did. He changed into various animals and finally into a new person all together, the same ingredients just rearranged in the cauldron of the womb. New mother Ceridwen tied the child in a magical leather bag containing a bag of herbs she had collected over nine months and threw him into the river. He was swept up by the waters and into the sea. He sailed away in his little bag, away from the land, and the current rocked and danced him in the light of the moon and the dark. The moon knows our hearts and reflects love back to us. The babe was in this love light as he sailed the sea, a small package with such a large potential.

The tightly wrapped bag went wherever the river went and was adrift for a long time, but he was calm and never cried. He never fought his way out of the bag. He aged not a single day during his journey under the changing moon. He had the Awen with him.

In a nearby fishing village lived a king. This king had a temper as we find so often in powerful rulers. King Gwyddno had a son, Prince Elphin, with whom he had placed high hopes that often ended in disappointment. The king was overly critical to the point that Elphin quite gave up on trying to be a wise prince   Elphin had always been an overly cheerful young man, yet it covered a hidden pain. He was like the prodigal son from the parable except he hadn't left home. He managed to overspend at the taverns, making merry with the fisherman. Elphin felt his father's disappointment and it pained him in his heart. He was so afraid to displease him that he gave up all hope to win his father’s approval. Pain and fear ruled his heart, though he hid it well. He preferred the company of the fishermen. These fishermen worked hard but they got paid by the day from the royal treasury no matter the haul. No one became rich from fishing in the kingdom of Gwyddno. Elphin was quite jolly but rarely successful at fishing or anything else for that matter. The village being so near the waters of rivers, sea, and pond that it counted on the salmon haul from the nets. They had many festivals surrounding fishing. Beltane, or May Day as is also known, was the most celebrated festival for it was the height of spring and warm at the shore. The haul from the nets of May could make a man quite wealthy. King Gwyddno was in the habit every May eve of giving a prize the value of twenty trained horses or twenty of Britain's finest hunting dogs. This year he chose Elphin in hopes that his son would for once do well. Elphin wasted no time. He waded into the shallow sea where he hauled the wide nets ashore, pulling them out too early. His impatient temperament made him a bad fisherman. Each time he pulled the nets he found no salmon at all. He felt worthless and pained.

Elphin was feeling very low. On the last day, he noticed something on the pole at the weir, not a fish but a leathern bag. Each day Elphin felt unlucky but now he felt that he was a fisher of trash. He pulled at the leathern bag and opened it to have his eyes flooded with bright light. Elphin exclaimed, “Behold a radiant brow!" Taliesin emerged from the bag singing a great epic poem, the Awen shinning bright from his brow.

Together Elphin and the babe Bard Taliesin returned to Gwyddno's castle hall. The prince asked to see his father, excited to show him the bright child he had caught. He was feeling such love from Awen that he forgot the pain over his fathers’ constant disappointment that he had been hiding.
Upon entering the hall, Gwyddno asked Elphin if he had caught plenty of fish. The babe Taliesin was wrapped in fishing rags. He was not a salmon although he looked deceivingly so.

Elphin seemed so happy that Gwyddno had gained false hope. Elphin told him that he had gotten a much better catch and held up the child and exclaimed, "I caught a Poet!" as the rags fell away.

Gwyddno erupted in anger thinking that not only did his son catch no fish but now thinking he lost his mind. He shouted to leave his sight. It was then that the babe Taliesin spoke, as the Bards relate:

I am Taliesin
I sing perfect meter which will last till the world's end
I know why an echo answers again
I know why a cow has horns and why a woman loves a man
how many drops a shower of rain
I know why there are scales on fish and black feet on swans
I have been a blue salmon
a dog, a stag, a roebuck on the mountain
a stock, a spade, an axe in the hand
a buck, a bull, a stallion
upon a hill I was grown as grain
reaped and in the oven thrown
out of that roasting I fell to the ground
pecked up and swallowed by the black hen
I have been dead,
I have been alive,
I am Taliesin

The child had completed his transformation. Elphin had not caught what he set out to catch, as many of us discover when casting our own nets. We think we are looking for one thing but finding another. Elphin had not thought about a child just yet, but once he had Taliesin, he loved him. Elphin had his own pain but once he was in the presence of Awen, he saw his own gifts. If he had not had a life of careless and clumsy mistakes, he might have become arrogant. It was his pained life that made him a better man when he was in the light of Awen. He was able to see the good in contrast to the bad with the light of the bright Taliesin. The King came to love Taliesin and poetry filled the castle and beyond.

Do you see yourself in the Taliesian story? Can you count the changes of your life?

The Mab

The Hanes Taliesin (Historia Taliesin, The Tale of Taliesin) is found in a collection of stories known as the Mabinogion. These are the earliest Welsh prose stories and belong to the Matter of Britain. The stories were compiled in Middle Welsh in the 12th–13th centuries from earlier oral traditions. There are two main source manuscripts, created c. 1350–1410, as well as a few earlier fragments.

This interpretation is a telling of an ancient story by Kathleen Reeves. Kathleen has studied with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids and attained all three levels. Storytelling is in the realm of the Bards.


Next Season: ADVENTURE

The next issue of Seasons will by published in June and will explore the topic of adventure.

Vincent Sun-9

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”
― Lewis Carroll

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