A Conversation with…Betty-Ann Kissilove, Author of “Great Ball of Fire! A Poetic Telling of The Universe Story”

                                                                                                                                         

A Conversation with… Betty-Ann Kissilove
Author of Great Ball of Fire!
A Poetic Telling of The Universe Story


Interviewed by Allysyn Kiplinger
Editor’s Note: Here’s a great example of one woman’s artistic expression of the new cosmology. I first met Betty-Ann at a retreat about the new cosmology with Dr. Brian Swimme in California in 1999. Her playful wit and intense curiosity about the nature of the universe are beautifully presented in her new book called “Great Ball of Fire! A Poetic Telling of the Universe Story” (Mearth Press, 2010). I was recently able to speak with her about this newly published epic poem, as well as inquire about her inspiration and her thoughts about cosmology.

The room is pitch dark. You sit, comfortably, waiting. You hear the gentle in-breath and out-breath of many people around you – you are not alone. Then you hear a confident, gentle, alto-like, woman’s voice begin to tell a story:

 A sample page from Betty-Ann Kissilove's Great Ball of Fire! A Poetic Telling of The Universe Story

Once a long time ago there was Nothing
Like nothing before or to come.
‘Twas a Nothing with Everything in it;
Nothing even as big as your thumb.

We can’t talk of the size of this Nothing
Because nothing has no size at all.
All this Nothing is hard to imagine…
'Cause there’s nothing at all to recall!

Till…

Out of nowhere this Nothing decided
That no time and no place and no thing
Were all ready and willing and able
To flare forth and become Everything.
So just how do you think Nothing did it?
It’s a story that's bound to enthrall!
From darkness to light, so incredibly bright,
All was born in a huge fireball.

You then hear a loud scratch and a tiny flame appears. The room begins to fill with light as the flame ignites a candle. Visible now is a slender, 50-something woman, in a wizard’s hat, with twinkling eyes. She continues:

It boggles the mind to imagine
Its size and its heat and its fire.
It was burning and churning for eons
As though it would never expire.

Believe it or not, we still see it!
We can see the beginnings of time.
Light from its edge is just reaching us…
In fact, that’s what inspired this rhyme!

This is how a recent book reading began with Chicago-native, now San Francisco-based, Betty-Ann Kissilove. I first met Betty-Ann at a new cosmology retreat with Dr. Brian Swimme in California in 1999. She has blended her playful wit and intense curiosity about the nature of the universe in a beautiful new book entitled Great Ball of Fire! A Poetic Telling of the Universe Story (Mearth Press, 2010).  

I recently interviewed her about her book, her inspiration, and her thoughts about cosmology. Here is an excerpt from that conversation.

Allysyn: Betty, your book is a scientifically accurate, beautifully illustrated, clever, funny poem about the history of the universe – from big bang to moon landing! Why did you write this book?

A sample page from Betty-Ann Kissilove's Great Ball of Fire! A Poetic Telling of The Universe Story

Betty-Ann: The Universe Story has had a profound influence on my life. I wanted to create a clear and engaging way to help share it with others.

I feel we’re in dire need of a new story. Living within the current one that we—in our modern, western, industrialized, consumerist culture—have been telling ourselves…whether we’re aware of it or not…has been perpetuating ways of thinking and behaving that are extremely destructive to the whole Earth Community. We need a new story, and I believe that the perspective the Story of the Universe provides can help guide us toward a more just, sustainable, and fulfilling future. A quotation from the Buddha says it beautifully: “If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.” Imagine what clearly seeing the miracle of our unfolding Universe would do!

Allysyn: What do you mean by the "Universe Story" and the “Story of the Universe”?

Betty-Ann: It’s a way to think about the whole Universe as a single, epic story that’s been unfolding for 13.7-billion-years. It’s a journey through space, time, and mystery! On this science-based journey we gain new perspective on our origins and our place in the universe. It was first put forth in a book called The Universe Story by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry (Harper Collins, 1992).

Allysyn: What brought you to the Universe Story?

Betty-Ann: Looking back, it’s easy to see how the unfolding story of my life naturally led me to the unfolding Story of the Universe.

I came of age—both literally and figuratively—in 1968, turning 18 at the height of the social and political upheaval over the war in Vietnam. This radicalized me, challenging the worldview that I’d grown up with. It shattered how I thought the world worked and how I saw my place in that world. In retrospect, I see that this experience began my quest for a new story.

By the mid-1970’s, I’d begun practicing Transcendental Meditation and was eagerly learning about the philosophy and quantum science behind it. In the mid-1980’s, I started volunteering with the national organization Beyond War. Its basic tenets — war is obsolete and we are one — brought together my political activism and my spiritual path.

Several years later, I heard the Story of the Universe with some friends from Beyond War. It struck a very deep chord in me, putting everything into perspective—a deep time, cosmological perspective. By deep time I mean geologic time. It empirically confirmed that we are one -with everything!

Allysyn: Can you say more about how The Universe Story affects you?

Betty-Ann: It offers me a deep time, evolutionary perspective that’s been vital in helping me maintain my sanity in the chaos of today’s world. We witness the suffering of so many of Earth’s beings — both human and non-human — as well as the degradation of Earth herself, and the gradual collapse of our social institutions. The new story gives me the psychic energy I need to navigate these very difficult, yet very exciting times. As I've heard some say, we are hospicing the old, collapsing cosmology while midwifing the new cosmology that is emerging.

Allysyn: What do you mean by a "cosmology" and "cosmological perspective"?

A sample page from Betty-Ann Kissilove's Great Ball of Fire! A Poetic Telling of The Universe Story

Betty-Ann: I see cosmology as the story of our origins and our place in the Universe—in both its physical and non-physical, or psychic, dimensions. Our cosmology informs our thinking, our behavior, and our values. We are not usually aware of this in our day to day lives. We often refer to a person’s “worldview” and how it consciously and unconsciously shapes one’s thinking, behavior, and actions. In these transition times, however, I believe “worldviews” are too limited. They’re what got us into the current mess in the first place! We need the expanded perspective of a  “Universe-view” to bring about the great transformation to a new, biocentric era—one of mutually enhancing Earth-human relations.

Allysyn: Can you say more about what you mean by these “transition times”?

Betty-Ann: (long pause) We are in a time when more and more people are becoming aware of and directly experiencing the dysfunctionality of our society, of our old cosmology. In this old cosmology, we see ourselves as separate from Earth and from the Earth community.

It’s been empirically shown, through mainstream science, that the assumption of separation couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re connected to everything. Did you know we’re actually stardust – made from elements forged in exploding stars? We’re beginning to understand that our behavior and thinking, based on the false assumption of separateness, is unsustainable and is extremely detrimental to us all.

The good news is that as we speak, millions of people are creating imaginative new systems and new ways of being to help us redefine our relationship to the environment and to one another. Paul Hawken writes about this in his book Blessed Unrest (Viking, 2007). It’s proof that the transition from a human-centric to a bio-centric cosmology has begun.

With all the awesome cosmological discoveries that have been made over the past century, we’re at a moment in human history similar to that of Copernicus in the 16th century. His discovery that Earth orbited around the Sun, rather than vice versa, shattered religious beliefs and required us to drastically change our prevailing world view – or, as I’d rather say, “Universe-view”. Making the transition to a bio-centric worldview requires us to make a similar kind of transformation.

I’m reminded of what Einstein said—himself a shatterer of  prevailing worldviews—after the splitting of  the atom and its use as a nuclear weapon: “Everything has changed, save our mode of thinking.”

Allysyn: Thanks for sharing your story and your perspectives with us, Betty.  This was great.  How can we reach you or buy your book?

Betty-Ann: You’re very welcome. It was my pleasure. My book is available through my website at www.GreatBallOfFireTheBook.com.

Allysyn: I will leave you, dear reader, with the closing stanzas and epilogue of Betty’s book.  

These new cosmological discoveries
Again shatter beliefs we’ve long held true…
They challenge us to reinvent our species,
To imagine our modern world anew.

Each Earth species has its true purpose and niche
Where its own special talent can shine.
Birds are the tops when it’s time to take flight;
For swimming, fish are the most fine.

Where is it we humans best find our niche?
Through us, the Cosmos on itself now reflects.
With our intellect ‘n imagination,
In celebration ‘n awe, we pay our respects.

When humans first saw the whole Earth from space,
We were awestruck by that profound vision.
The unfolding Cosmos brought us to this point;
Storytelling is now our commission.

We can now finally tell this new Story.
For the first time we have the main parts.
At least parts up to this very moment–
For the future lies deep in our hearts…

EPILOGUE

The Story provides a new context,
New perspective that helps us to see
We’re stardust!  We’re connected to Everything!
We belong to the Earth Community!
When we lose this perspective, we suffer.
Human history shows this is true.
War and poverty, Earth’s degradation—
All brought on by our myopic view.
Our belonging and feeling connected
Make us eager to do all we can
To cherish each other, our planet…
Support Life…and to live by that plan.

 

 


About the Author


Born and raised in Chicago, Betty-Ann Kissilove lives in San Francisco. She has been teaching English as a Second Language at City College of San Francisco since 1980. For two decades she has been fascinated and deeply influenced by the 13.7-billion-year Story of the Universe. This fascination, along with her lifetime of dedication to education, inspired her to write the epic poem Great Ball of Fire!  She hopes it will help make the Universe Story accessible to a wider audience. You may order her book or reach her through her website at: www.greatballoffirethebook.com.

 

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