December 13, 2012
Kate Braestrup —
A Presence in the Wild

Kate Braestrup is a chaplain to game wardens, often on search and rescue missions, in the wilds of Maine. She works, as she puts it, at hinges of human experience when lives alter unexpectedly — where loss, disaster, decency and beauty intertwine. Hear her wise and unusual take on life and death, lost and found.

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is a Unitarian Universalist chaplain for the Maine Warden Service and the author of Here If You Need Me.

Pertinent Posts

Travel to the woods of Maine and encounter Kate Braestrup's landscape from a falconer's perspective. Audio producer Samantha Broun and photographer Amanda Kowalski follow the story of a red-tailed hawk on the hunt. It's a hidden world.

Selected Readings

Excerpted Chapter from Braestrup's Memoir

Kate Braestrup's chaplaincy includes both service to the game wardens of Maine's parks and forests and to the victims and families of search-and-rescue missions. In this excerpt from her memoir, Here If You Need Me, Kate Braestrup reflects on her relationship to the game wardens she works closely with, and how ministry with them ranges from responding to their emotional needs following critical incidents to simply being a companion in their daily work.

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Dusk on Cadillac Mountain in Maine's Acadia National Park.

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Home alone at the end of a Thanksgiving weekend of food and family, tonight I was putting away the last leftovers while listening to Speaking of Faith. Your amazing conversation with Kate Braestrup stopped my busy-ness and set me down to listen to the lovely presence of her voice. I needed to hear what she was saying.

Just this morning, I had a difficult conversation about faith with my wonderful but traditional young adult children. A life-long liberal Christian, I complained about how I longed for a faith community to match my sense that God is not a person, but is instead an incomprehensible spiritual source of love and goodness. I explained that holy moments for me are those rare resurrection experiences in which love is so real, so raw, we feel compelled to laugh and cry at the same time. That, I told them, is what I try convey with my words as a poet, storyteller and speaker through InSpiritry. Their faces told me they wished I could just be more normal.

Tonight as I listened to Kate talk about her ministry, I was filled with gratitude for her life and her stories. Her inspiring ability to be mindful of the God in very difficult situations filled my heart with hope and restored my faith in my spirituality and my work.

Just as she has done for so many precious families, Kate offered me the gift of being "here if you need me." I am grateful to both Krista and Kate for the blessing!

I downloaded Kristas conversation with Kate Braestrup and dearly loved listening to it many, many times. I found it very interesting that your sense of God is very much the same as mine. As a volunteer at an Aids hospice a nurse came from a room nearby and encouraged myself and another volunteer to sit with a resident that had just died. Inside the room we sat for just a few minutes before I sensed a presence in the room and an essence filling the room little by little. I'm sure it was God as an essence of LOVE that was very, very deep and real. Since then I have had other similar experiences and keep open for them to manifest from time to time as they do. Thank you for triggering this moment.

I have listened to your conversation with Kate Braestrup three times today. Yesterday I had never even heard of your show. Great stuff, it reminded me immediately of the Bill Moyers/Joseph Campbell 'Power of Myth' series as well as a little novel by Maugham called 'Razor's Edge'. But what I thought was most striking was to hear Miss Braestrum speak of the presence of love even in situations which are irreversable and tragic (her story of the young woman who was raped and murdered). It leaves me speechless. Thank you for putting together this program, I look forward to tuning in.

By the way, I have to admit I started listening simply because I thought you were interviewing Holly Hunter -their voices are very similar.

laughing at myself, -Mi.

Dear Ms Tippett,

I have listened to your program for many years and often meant to write you with my thanks. I suffered a life changing loss this month and my optimism has been shaken deeply.

I am finally moved to write to you a note of thanks after listening this evening to your interview with Reverend Kate Braestrup. Thank you! Thank you Reverend Braestrup. I really appreciate the balm to my soul that you both gave to me.

Warm Regards,
Frederick Baron

Thank you for this wonderful program today! The story about the woman who lost her husband to night time ice skating really touched me. I didn't expect to be crying into the frying pan while cooking my brunch, but there you have it. I've always been interested in Unitarian Universalism, but having grown up Catholic (and still working out some residual stuff) I'm pretty wary of religion. But I think I'll do some more research. Certainly I will reach out to more people. Your guest is a boon to humanity. We're lucky to have people like her doing such good work. Love and light to her and to you!

Hello - Although I loved hearing Kate's story, my experience of my husband's death by suicide was 180 opposite: disenfranchised grief, no support. I was a contract-worker, so I did not get help at work; no major attention paid to my children ages 9 and 10 at school; both families backed away; no one called; were were basically 'scapegoated' in our suburban community. Yes, if hell is 'no support/love,' then I would say that her spirituality excludes my experience. And if it excludes the experience, then it, by definition, creates another 'definition' of hell - which she acknowledges. Situations of brokenness can throw you back on your inner self ~ Rev. Henri Nouwen's "Inner Voice of Love" and much of Buddhism. Sometimes I think of the phrase 'children of a lesser god' and understand exactly what that means. -- Barbara who loves your program!

Kate Braestrup criticizes Christianity, and rightly so. But her characterization doesn't represent all Christians. Christians are divided along at least two lines*: (1) those who believe the Gospel concerns personal salvation or (2) those who follow Jesus' Gospel of the nearness of the Kingdom. The former often results in the horrifying triumphalism and tribalism that Kate detests. But the latter conforms with the agape love Kate espouses. Both Gospels can be combined together to a single Gospel. Many do so. But for others, like me, the latter is most meaningful and the former is rejected for its deleterious moral consequences.

*References: "God's Politics," (Wallis) and "Jesus before Christianity." (Nolan)

Really appreciate your comment. I think I'm a "Unitarian Christian" type. I've spent most of my nursing career , 30 years (now retired, caring for oncology and Hospice patients. Also became a Hospice chaplain. These patients and their families taught me so much about Life and Death and Faith. Last year I wrote a book about some of their stories, Transitions: A Nurse's Education about Life and Death. Blessings!! Like the book Love Wins too.

Kate Braestrup is a Unitarian-Universalist minister and author. She steps in when accidents happen. I found it extremely interesting when Krista Tippet says that Kate considers herself religious but not spiritual. I have never heard this before, and especially after listening to Kate speak it appears that she is very spiritual. I almost wonder if that was a mistake, because it is very common to hear "I'm spiritual NOT religious." It seems as I listen on, the way Kate sees the world, and God, is beautiful, and very spiritual, if I say so myself.

I think that there is something remarkably beautiful about what Kate had talked about where God is in things that happen, like accidents and tragedies. "God is love." God is the force that really drives us to really see each other and care for one another. It's always so easy to question God in times like tragedies, like all the incidents Kate has seen, the man who fell through the ice, the young woman who was raped and body was missing in the woods; that she still sees how God was part of it. It was in the love of all the people who helped and searched, and risked their own lives to help find these people. It's all in the love, and that's where God is. "Once you accept that death is a given, that becomes the thing to look for and the mark" Kate said. The mark being the love and kindness in the event, and that where God is. To be loved and to be honored, in the event of someone's death, is actually a beautiful thing. The value of our connections with people is held on a higher standard than our own lives. The existence of love between these people and their lost loved ones, is of a nature that shows almost a silver lining in bad events.

This reminds me of an assignment I had to do in a high school writing class, where we had to describe the "perfect day." Now this was just a journaling exercise, and while people were scribbling on about, shopping, and fun events that they were doing, and who they were with; mine simply stated "my funeral." Everyone in class was taken aback, even the teacher, and I let myself try to explain. It is the one day that you will be held with the utmost respect by all the people who knew you. Hopefully the place will be filled with people, all people who loved me. Maybe even a few surprises as to who would show up. Hopefully nobody will speak ill of me, because it is true, it is the one day, that everyone accepts their feelings for you, that you would not have otherwise known. That's why I am absolutely in love with what this woman, Kate Braestrup had do say about the love that comes from these accidents and tragedies. It's what I have always felt in the world, and the love with others, and that's what can guide a spiritual force.

I think it was interesting that she says "we practice our entire lives for death". This to me seems very cynical, but on the other hand it makes sense because we tend to want skills that will keep us safe i.e. balance, wisdom, or logic.

The concept that Kate lives by is to show as much love to others as possible. I feel like if more people were to consider this, life would be easier for more people. Showing compassion towards others is normally what people need.

Yesterday I happened to watch Incident at Oglala, the documentary movie made by Robert Redford about what happened at Pine Ridge in the seventies, a series of interviews with the principals involved in the bloodshed on the reservation that implicated Leonard Peltier and others. This same day, towards evening, I opened SOF on my computer, and read about Sitting Bull. This was a powerful coincidence for me. I am feeling, God is in the wings!

Leonard Peltier has been in prison for over thirty-three years for what many believe is a gross miscarriage of justice, and I believe anyone interested in this Native American and in the legacy of Sitting Bull and others ought to read deeply the literature on this subject.

Peter Mathiessen wrote a seminal book on the incidents at Pine Ridge and about the American Indian movement many years ago.It is a book about more than the facts of this case, containing as it does, an outrage for what has happened over the years, to the American Indians and how they have been so cruelly treated.

Leonard himself wrote a book, My Life is My Sun Dance, and I am reminded by this moving commentary about what happened to Sitting Bull about a history that gives most of those who care about sacred and spiritual values, deep and ongoing "reservations" that have to do with the treatment of the American Indian in history.

When Amnesty International cannot get movement on a case they feel is a total miscarriage of justice, as Leonard Peltier seems to have been targeted for a murder he says he did not commit, and when a man has been before appeals boards repeatedly and is never allowed parole, when Clinton himself pulled back, when people like Barney Frank and so many others, thousands around the world, including Nobel prize winners, cannot move this case, then one has to wonder about the notion of justice and also about the values that we say we totally cherish, the values that are about Touch the Earth, the values of deep spirituality, deep love of environment of the sacred in all things, our legacy from the Native American Indian culture.

So I am saying, it seems mighty strange I watched this movie yesterday, and then came to this site. But beyond my own recorded constant history of coincidence I am saying something is so wrong with this picture. Maybe it's time to speak out for justice and that a spirituality that includes social action is a step worth taking, so we can all be in step, about the issue of humanity, and a mandate I do totally believe is our "man date", namely to act to ensure justice and equality for all and a reverence for the American Indian and recognition of the unjust ways we have treated these peoples, this culture.

December l8 was yesterday and I am aware of the significance of numbers, yesterday being Chai, for LIFE in Hebrew.

This morning a friend sent me a wonderful article by Simon Jacobson, a Rabbi, about the unitary metaphoric connects that do bind all life. It was poetically stated, and I recognized the thread within as being ONE we are all writing about, each in our own unique and very special ways. Kate's life, in terms of the tragedy that suddenly envelopped her, when her husband was killed in the car accident, is a case in point, and she is very clear about how, in the events that followed, she felt supported, in ways that were magical, by other people who came into her life at this time. In fact, she took on his calling and went on to study in the ministry herself, what her husband had been about to do. This was a life changing experience, that within the deepest of tragedy, came with it, also, the light. Yes light within dark. It seems an ongoing religious, certainly, spiritual theme for us all.

When we examine the existential content of our individual and collective lives, there is story within, and there seems to be a lesson or many lessons, that can be derived from the distillation of the experiences, even those that do overwhelm us and cause us to question a Deity. We can ACT to help each other, to make the experiences that truly hit hard, into something of gold, of silver, an amalgam of kindness and caring. Could it be all stories are crated by a Divine Hand to make us think, and to bring us further up Jacob's ladder, one rung at a time. DING, as in what is ringing, what is rung, a realization that story itself is for climbing, as stories are also, for climbing.

We are just not coming back (as far as we know). There is this one precious life. In it there will be joy and loss and there is no hiding from the loss, no "get out of jail" card for the loss, no "redo." If that is the case, how much more special and rare the time we have here; how much more sacred and redemptive the love. How much more important to be the love for oneself and others instead of adding to the loss.

I was very taken by Kate's story about the death of her first husband, and how her life many years later is great and still she carries with her his loss. It is both, together. She is refreshingly honest about death, which I find comforting. Her honesty about death helped me understand her appreciation and deep engagement in life - human life within a community of love. Yet, she made the love more significant than death. As in death is inevitable, but love is a choice that transcends every moment. I wish more of us would take this choice and run with it for all we are worth.

I also happen to be married to someone who tends to crash about in his physical space. He is the person who wants to know exactly how fast his motorcycle will go, and tests it to find out (175 mph - no, I was NOT there that day). He would have things in common with accident victims she and the wardens encounter. People who just want to live. Before I met my husband I was much more afraid of dying. Now I am much more aware of how amazing this life is, yet that is because my husband lives his life with such zest. But that zest is a choice on his part, knowing how hard and cruel the world can be - live it well like you mean it. I agree with Kate, the living is really the key to what we can know now.

Today's show with Kate Braestrup, the UU minister, was terrific and I could really relate to her story and how she relates to those whose lives intersect with hers. Too often, I find the interviews by Krista Tippett to be very 'precious' and too vague or ethereal to be resonant with my life as a person of faith (Quaker, social justice activist, planner/engineer). But as one who lives in north western NH along the CT River and has similar stories to those told by Kate from Maine, I found this interview excellent.
Thank you,
Shawn Donovan

(I listen on NH Public Radio)

This was another wonderfully humanizing and comforting show. I found comfort and recognized the true humanity in Ms Braestrup's own admission of weakness, past and recurring, when she visited the wall that immortalizes her late husband along with the thousand other fallen law enforcement officers. On Jan 1, 2001, I lost the biggest cheerleader/support system I've EVER had, my uncle Greg, a TN State Highway Patrolman and talk about a helluva impact!!

I was not yet 30, but this time changed me forever! It felt like I slept through the worst nightmare ever for the next 5 or 6 years because of it. In an instance of heroism and simply doing what he loved - protecting his community - I'd lost my surrogate father just when I needed him most. I was about to be a divorced, single mother of a 1 yr old boy living in Washington, DC with NO family support and he'd prepared to drive later in the week from Nashville, TN to DC to move me into an apartment for the safety of myself and my son. We'd confirmed our plans on 31 Dec and the last thing out of his mouth was "You'll be fine, I promise. I love you." He never made it here, needless to say and I had to make his promise to me true in a vulnerable state of mind/body/spirit. I still have moments...lots of them, when the loss HITS me just like the impact of the drunk driver in the pick up that ended his life on the icy roads of Nashville on New Year's Day that year. And yes, I have no i dea sometimes how to deal with the grief. I do FEEL as if I'll lose my mind, but I think about him and realize that's NOT what he'd do. Today a fellow mourner made me FEEL better about HOW I FEEL about the loss and how I allow others to help me grieve.

To date, I'm the only family member who has NOT participated in the week-long activities for family members' of The Fallen though I've lived here since the family started attending in 2001. I don't go and the family has stopped asking me to go. So I've resigned myself to the solitary visits when I occasionally steal away from my own family and venture down to the memorial and honor him with a flower, or just sitting and being, or crying like a new born baby - audible with all of the torment that comes with that loss tied to times when I WANT him here with me. Sometimes when I visit it, I'm comforted in knowing that the others visiting, are my kindred living through their own pain or as she put it celebrating the life that their loved one lived kind of in spite of how they died.

Thank you Minister Braestrup, for sharing and confirming for me that I'm not alone.

Thank you Krista Tippett and staff of On Being for this show in particular.

I heard the interview with Kate Braestrup this morning and found it profoundly meaningful in light of yesterday's school tragedy. How fortunate that circumstances "aligned" so that it this sad morning. I believe those mourning parents would have found it helpful, too. As a retired Presbyterian minister, I concur with her statement that heaven and hell are not about death, but about how we live life and utilize the time available to us, Thanks to her for common-sense, simple-yet-practical view of God/love. And thanks to Krista for her enriching programs. I listen regularly and often share things I hear with the Adult Class I teach on Sunday mornings. Your program is truly an important, if lonely, breath of fresh air among all the "stuff" on today's radio-tv.

Love the book! I'm a retired nurse spending the bulk of my career in Oncology and Hospice and also became a Hospice Chaplain. I started writing to process my emotions at my husband's suggestion. This turned into a weekly newspaper column, Beyond Statistics. I continue to penn this column weekly. The first one was May 1986. So with another suggestion from my husband last year I wrote a book sharing some of my patients stories. Some with pre-death visions, some with NDE 's, some humorous, some heart wrenching. You see, they were always teaching me so many lessons. Transitions:A Nurse's Education about Life and Death
blessings to Kate and especially today and many days ahead to all who are suffering loss and those who walk beside them.
Love and Light, Becki

I listened to this podcast for the first time yesterday morning (Dec. 14, 2012) while walking my dog as the tragedy and heartbreak was occurring in Connecticut. I was caught up in my own thoughts and grief of losing my sister unexpectedly at Thanksgiving. When I returned home and heard the first news reports, the grief was overwhelming but the words from Kate Braestrup helped to guide me to find my own "best practices" for how to respond and "just be" with my family when there are no words that suffice. Thank you for replaying this podcast. I have listened to it again today and sent it on to others as well.

I heard this program for the first time on December 16, 2012, two days after the Newton, Connecticut shooting where a 20-year old male shot 20 young children, 6 school personnel, his mother, and himself, to death. As the President said, we in this country have been through this too many times. The combination of a general mindset very different from that of Kate Braestrup and Krista Tippett and the 300 million guns owned by the citizens of this country indicates we will go through it again and again, unless we can change as a nation.

This program is most certainly part of the foundation of that change. I don't pretend to be able to conceive of or understand a being present in human emotions and also in exploding galaxies. I'm glad this program doesn't presume to be able to psychoanalyze God and tell us what He or She would like us to think and do today. I have some anger myself at those who claim to have that knowledge, and I realize that there are places in the world where that claim is made more vehemently than it is here in the good old USA. But we're the ones with this particular gun violence problem, and I hope that the human kindness and goodness that comes through so fully in the voices of Kate and Krista can be heard by those who have not heard it before. It's the only countermeasure I can think of right now.

I loved the interview with Kate Braestrup the first time you broadcast it. But today, Sunday, Dec 16, 2012, the repeat broadcast proved even more intensely moving, coming after the horrors of last Friday in Newtown. It was consoling. Thank you. I know it was not planned this way--how could it be?--but perhaps, well, Providential?

In gratitude,
Pamela Starr

I'm sorry, but this woman on your show today left me with a "gag me with a spoon" response. How is it that ordinary human love and kindness has to be associated with a "god"? And that she makes such a big issue of Mainers who come out for "public: emergenies worries me. Did she live her life apart from normal kind caring people. You know, response to an emergency is just one example of human kindness. I look at my own neighbors, several of whom are avowed agnostics, and would never ascribe their good will or generosity to a god, and see the characteristics she extolls as so amazing among people of her state happening each and every day. And it annoys me that she has now made a career and gets to be on the radio about this.

I think, with all respect, you're misunderstanding the nuance of what Kate said. She's not saying that love and kindness are proof of God or only because of God. She's saying that love and kindness are the essence of what a "God" would be, whether you believe in an actual God or not. That the sacredness that we think of as God is found and embodied in human kindness. It's very consistent with what many agnostics and thoughtful atheists believe (not surprising, given she's a Unitarian Universalist and admits to her own skepticism about the existence of God).

I loved this interview the first time I heard it, and I wrote a blog entry in response. It's too long to post here, but the link is:

Someone asked why "ordinary love and kindness" has to be associated with a god. If you believe in God,you believe that we were
constructed that way by God. Even if you don't believe in God, you can see that "ordinary love and kindness" has an evolutionary value. Those who help one another help in the survival process of others.

I have been a listener for a couple of years, maybe more. I have found virtually all of your interviews interesting and many have been inspirational. She spoke of finding God (Love) in places we normally do not think of. Today, I found God (Love) in this conversation.


I had listened to this program shortly before the Newtown shootings and returned to it three times during that week to help make sense with that tragedy. Again yesterday I listened to it after the Boston marathon bombings. I thought of her simple but comforting words, God is in the people who come to help. Thank you for this show. For some reason it serves as a touchstone about the goodness of habits to me, in a season of senseless violence in my beloved New England. May we find peace again soon.

I really enjoyed your interview with Kate Braestrap. I have dealt with a terrible loss of my own, and having someone try to shove their religious beliefs on me would have been aweful. I think that it's great that Kate doesn't do that. It seems like she approaches each situation differently depending on the environment that she walks in to. It doesn't suprise me that she has had success in her life because of how she can not only relate to the grief that people go through, but also that she can approach a situation like she mentioned with the ice skater. She was told right off that the widow didn't like cops or religion, and instead of pushing the subject, Kate saw that the women had the support that she currently needed. I think that if she would have pushed further, she would have made things worse. It takes a wise person to know when to push, and when to back off.

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I had missed the interview with Kate Braestrup in 2013 and picked it up today. I found her insights so rich and pertinent to the tense situation today between police and Black Life Matters and with the Refugee issue confronting Europe today and with the confusion of living day to day in what often feels chaotic and out of our control. Kate basically lives the truth that what we are here on this planet to do is Love. Death is a given, living in Love is our road.