For most of her life, Betty Kissilove hasn’t sent commercial holiday greeting cards to her family and friends. She writes her own ‘happy birthday’ messages using the medium of poetry.
So when this San Franciscan felt moved to write her own book about the universe story, the original birthday for us all – the planets, stars, galaxies, the bacteria, fungi, oceans, trees, rocks, critters, and human beings – she found herself naturally turning to verse once again. The result is a delightful retelling of creation in this frequently humorous, thought provoking work she has entitled Great Ball of Fire. It is dedicated to the late Passionist Fr. Thomas Berry, co-author of The Universe Story with Brian Swimme.
Published last year by Mearth Press, in San Francisco, Great Ball of Fire wraps the author’s poetry around a stunning collection of illustrations, assembled by Ann Amberg There are photos from the Hubble Telescope, computer generated images, paintings, drawings and photographs which show each developing stage of the universe. This little paperback is a beautiful coffee table book which will undoubtedly be pored over in detail time and again.
The back cover describes the author’s work as Carl Sagan meeting Dr. Seuss. That’s a good description. Here are the opening words:
“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 image..
‘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!”
Channelling the Dr. Seuss persona was totally unintentional, acknowledged the author. “He was after my time. I became a fan as an adult, especially of The Lorax and other books of his with environmental/political messages.” Betty said she loves his engaging humorous style and format because they are “so perfect for conveying big ideas in a very readable, non-threatening manner.” His style, she continues, “just came out of me…I think if I tried to do it that way, it probably wouldn’t have worked.”
What prompted Betty to write Great Ball of Fire? It was the educator in her, she says. An English as a Second Language teacher for the past 31 years at City College in San Francisco, Betty was fascinated by the story of the universe, “I just felt inspired to tell the story in my own voice – hopefully in a clear and engaging way to help make it accessible to a wider audience.”
Betty Kissilove is a long-time social activist from Chicago who came of age during the Vietnam War upheaval. “This radicalized me, challenging the worldview that I’d grown up with,” she explained in a November 30, 2010 Ecozoic Times interview with Oakland writer Allysyn Kiplinger.
“It shattered how I thought the world worked and how I saw myself in that world. In retrospect, I see that this experience began in my quest for a new story.” She became involved in Transcendental Meditation during the 1970s, and resonated with its quantum science philosophy .
A decade later, she began volunteering with the national organization, Beyond War. “Its basic tenets that war is obsolete and we are one, brought together my political activism and spiritual path.” Several years later, she heard the story of the universe with some Beyond War Friends. “It struck a very deep chord in me, putting everything in perspective, once more confirming that we are one with everything.”
This was deeply consoling and affirming, said the writer. “An evolutionary perspective has 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. This 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.”
What does she mean by a new cosmology? It’s the story of our origins, and our place in the universe – in both its physical and non-physical, or psychic dimensions, she explained. “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 our worldviews are too limited. They’ve 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.”
Betty talks about this at the conclusion of her book. “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 … up to this very moment, for the future lies deep in our hearts
"We’re stardust. We’re connected to everything. New perspective that helps us to see. 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.”
Great Ball of Fire has drawn praises from scientists, authors and educators alike.
Carol Anthony from Breakthrough Communities calls it “stunning, magnificent ... bringing to life a narrative of evolution from the big bang and the first living cells to human communities on the edge of the great transformation of the 21st century…a creation story for our time.”
Dominican Sr. Miriam MacGillis, founding director of Genesis Farm, notes: Betty Kissilove has crafted a wondrous story for humans of all ages. This is such an important contribution, especially in these troubled times where only such a new story can transform our horrendous wars, insatiable hungers, ambitions and misguided inventiveness.”
Alice McMurry, a Montessori teacher in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, says: “This was one of the kids’ favorite assignments and really helped them to put it all together in terms of what we had learned about geography, science and history.”
Last year Betty Kissilove received word from Reach and Teach, the peace and social justice learning company, that they were including her book in their line of educational offerings.
Great Ball of Fire is $19.95 and can be purchased through www.reachandteach.com, or through Betty’s website, www.greatballoffirethebook.com.