Joel Lesses's Unraveling Religion: Mysticism, Spirituality, and Awakening
For everyone who has an interest in the root of spirituality and religion, our own root, and human beings who have delved into this matter, these series of talks are a work in progress for exploring our rich inner life. I am hopeful that it will deepen our understanding of religious texts, poems, art and the human condition, shared by all to be explored to enhance our understanding and experience of (both Eastern and Western) psychology, and the deep aspects of ourselves and questions fundamental to our human existence. As a listener, you are a part of this experience and as such feel free to contribute to the dialogue with me, expand this conversation. Visit Joel's Facebook page:; to reach Joel directly, please email him at
8/9/17 Richard and Joel Talk During A Night Walk
Two friends find meaning in discussing life and reveal kindness as the lasting binding element; is it Plato or Aristotle? It is only how we define love that matters, because only love endures forever. Richard shares Sartre's "The Wall" Joel shares a Chasidic Tale "The Rabbi's Gift" each finds newness in understanding because this evening we were not alone, we shared an evening walk.
To listen (25:27) or click here.....for direct link click here
7/5/17 Invoking "May You Be Well, May You Be Happy"; Ground and Sky Rochester Reading Series July 2017
Ken Michael and Joel form Ground and Sky in July. Summer connections based in genuine trust: no less, no more. Personal stories and poems reveal budding friendships, based on honesty. Joel begins with an invocation, an intention created for each person, a loving intention and the poem "Through The Day." Present fully to all that presents itself, "sun-faced Buddha, moon-faced Buddha," addiction, and its effects and what do we leave behind? Mary Oliver's poem, "I Happen To Be Standing There" shared Mike shares his own, "Tyranny Of One" Ken holds listening space and offers his presence and care. Intuition and substance use, the seasons, presence, exploration in this, an evening of building anew, finding our inner truth, inner compass, honed this evening. Please, listen.
To listen to Part One (46:04) or click here.....for direct link click here
To listen to Part Two (48:48) or click here.....for direct link click here
6/7/17 Ground and Sky Rochester Poetry Reading Series at Before Your Quiet Eyes
A new beginning in June 2017 with Ken (Owner of Before Your Quiet Eyes) with new friends and discussions surrounding relationship, poetry, and truth. A time of building community though connection and dialogue. Here Erica and Billy, Elizabeth and Joe, Mike and Mike, Ken and Joel form a circle and open this evening. Erica opens with some works on relationship that sets the tone for the evening. Stories and creativity, wisdom and faith, exploring through depth. The evening weaves in and out of the existential (i.e., do we choose, or are we chosen?) to the mundane, and back to community. Disability resistance, disability rights are examined. Enjoy...
To listen to Part One (46:04) or click here.....for direct link click here
To listen to Part Two (48:48) or click here.....for direct link click here
5/7/2017 Feeding The Wolf of Light: Talk Regarding Change
In discussions with Jim Pray, beginnings and endings are examined as difficult to accept. What we think should be, is not always, what "Is." Jim and Joel, in this episode of friendship, deconstruct relationship, death, meaning, various challenging conditions and how to respond to difficult circumstance. Cultivating inner awareness and responsiveness to change and challenging events and friendships as a opportunity to overcome life's sorrows and disappointment. Jim poses common everyday questions of dilemmas we all face. In letting go of expectations, we may the present as the gift to free us to grow away from hurt and harm, toward health happiness and wholeness. Jim asks Joel about his trip to Nepal, where human warmth and connection is easier to find, Joel shares teaching is found in perspective travel offers and blessings ensue.
To listen (57:53) or click here.....for direct link click here
4/19/2017 We Shall Not Hate, The Meaning of Sa'lam, Shalom, and Peace: Dr. Izzdelin Abuelaish Speaks On Peace and Understanding Differences Among People
In this special episode of Unraveling Religion, Joel travels to Toronto to meet Dr. Abuelaish and together engage in a Sacred conversation regarding life, understanding, and reaching beyond tolerance into respect and love for our human differences found in countries, religions, cultures, and people. As a medical doctor and healer, Dr. Abuelaish's life is a tireless effort to broaden our human understanding that the differences between people are much smaller than the similarity (See TED talk, Joel and Dr. Abuelaish find common ground in exploring ethics and respect in common understanding, found in all the world's spiritual traditions and all faiths including Islam, Judaism, and Christianity revealed in this episode. Izzeldin Abuelaish, is a Canadian-Palestinian medical doctor and author. He was born in Gaza, and was the first Palestinian doctor to work in an Israeli hospital. He is active in promoting Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, He founded the "Daughters for Life Foundation" ( in memory of three of his daughters, who were killed by Israeli tank fire during the Gaza War. The organisation provides scholarship awards to encourage young women to pursue their studies at universities in Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Syria.  He was born and raised in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He received his elementary, preparatory and secondary education in the refugee camp schools. His book entitled, "I Shall Not Hate." ( It is a great honor to know a man of this level of character, quality, intelligence, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. It is an honor to call him, "friend." Please, listen.
To listen (51:16) or click here.....for direct link click here
4/5/2017 Ground and Sky Rochester Poetry Series: The Fertile Ground Of North Star
The Ground and Sky Rochester Poetry Series community of six people was burgeoning into Spring. Betsy opens with a poem from her book "The Final Light" entitled "Other." Robert rejoins after being away for a few months, a welcomed presence and reading selected poems. Together, we, exploring convention and distress as a road to leave convention, discuss culture that allow for individual differences and expression of moving through the trauma and distress as a process of rights of passage as a potential healer, leader, and teacher. Betsy reads a poem that initiates a look through the lens of life and change in relation to our human condition, drawing on the signals and information from intuition and from convention, how do we "name?" What is "naming?" What does that do for us? Barry poses the question - essentially; what are the implications: Power? Destiny? Betsy, Robert, Barry, Heather, and Joel were joined by Nathaniel Stolte from Ground and Sky Buffalo, where the beginnings of Ground and Sky were discussed and how Nathaniel and Joel were offered the opportunity to create space for community in poetry, freedom from forms of formality. The last call of poems, the final round, Robert offers and reads "Photograph," Betsy reads her poem "Astronaut," Joel closes with a poem dedicated to the teaching his father offered him from childhood; the kind heart and gentle patience which is reflected in "Leaf Falling Letter" - as Joel reads, "it is alright, it is all to be all right." Listen, enjoy blessings of what is around us, in us, and before us: we pray it be done in beauty, in beauty.
Part One: To listen (48:24) or click here.....for direct link click here
Part Two: To listen (47:45) or click here.....for direct link click here
12/7/2016 Ground and Sky Rochester Reading Series: Death and Other Life Poems
This reading offers three new members who join Barry David and Joel; Robert (i.e., reads Lowell) Steven (i.e., will offer a notepad next time) and Michael (i.e., NYC) poetic terrain and musings include Robert Lowell and mental health, Borges (i.e., Crazywise), psychosis as a marker of a potential healer leader and teacher in community; a grappling with the poetry of life and death, conversation and passion, the triumph of suffering overcome. The new poets infuse and invigorate, Steven quietly absorbs, Michael reads a last NYC poem and Robert lifts and breaths life into Lowell, David explores the mystical in his vital and brilliant voice, Barry offer the passion and thought of poetry's cost and reward, Joel closes with the 2016 poem, Turn My Neck Behind Me, Gazing On My Past: Retrospective; an ode to the healing feminine relationships in his life that helped overcome a difficult upbringing. Ground and Sky at North Star Bookstore, a haven and garden of ideas and an intersection of universes, unleashing roots and shelter for being, brave.
Part One: To listen (49:17) or click here.....for direct link click here
Part Two: To listen (46:42) or click here.....for direct link click here
11/9/2016 Ground and Sky Rochester Poetry Series: Post Election Mourning Evening
At North Star Books on Atlas Street in Rochester; David, Barry, and Joel speak of the movement from disbelief to processing what is happening now in American politics, poetry awakens in us as belief shifts to experience in each of us, then the poetry kicks in: Joel retires some poems which were begging for "Emertius" status, David shares a series of poems and the evening continues in discourse and weaves the discomfort of the night in finale with Federico Garcia Lorca.
To listen (53:35) or click here.....for direct link click here
10/13/16 Ben, Nathan and Joel Reading Poetry
At Claire Gay's Inspiration Point: Nathanael William Stolte, Ben Brindise and Joel Lesses read selected works from their respective poems and other verses; with several open slots and spontaneous readings were shuffled in the mix. An exceptional evening of truth and couage, community forming beyond language.
Part One: To listen (35:35) or click here.....for direct link click here
Part Two: To listen (43:51) or click here.....for direct link click here
10/12/16 Poet Tim Staley, author of Lost on My Own Street, Dianne Borsenik, and Joel Lesses read at Mac's Backs Books on Coventry in Cleveland, Ohio
Tim lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico and is the publisher of Grandma Moses Press. His work has been published in Abyss & Apex, The Beatlick News, Blue Pepper, Bluegrass Accolades, Border Senses, Brickplight, burntdistrict, Cacti Fur, Canary, Chaffey Review, Chiron Review, Circumference, Coe Review, Crab Fat, Dingleberry Peak Anthology, The FUN Journal, Indiana Voice Journal, The Ink Spot, Jokes Review, Lummox Journal, Lunarosity, Malpais Review, Magnapoets, North of Center, Owl Eye Review, Plumb Tree Tavern, Poesies, Poetry Pacific, the Rag, Red Fez, RHINO: The Poetry Forum, San Pedro River Review, Sediments Literary-Arts Journal, Sin Fronteras, Spark Wheel Press, Spilt Ink, Star 82 Review, Verse-Virtual, Wild Violet Magazine and Zen Baby. A chapbook, The Most Honest Syllable is Shhh is forthcoming from NightBallet Press in 2017.
Dianne Borsenik, from Elyria, Ohio, is the Publisher and Editor of NightBallet Press, an indepedent small press, interested in the musicality of language and the originality of expression, with a committement to excellence (see As a poet, Dianne has been writing and been published in various journals, magazines, and newspaers since the 80's (see
Joel Lesses is the founder of the Ground and Sky Reading Series in Western New York (i.e., currently in Buffalo and Rochester). A poet interested in the confluence of religion and creativity, Joel does the Unraveling Religion podcast. Joel received Buffalo's best poet award in 2014 sponsored by ArtVoice and has facilitated numerous writing workshops in western NY.
Part One: To listen (47:59) or click here.....for direct link click here
10/6/16 Ground and Sky Rochester Poetry Series: North Star Books
Second reading series (born in Buffalo, seeds carried to Rochester) fledging group of poets join together in community. No mic, no list, no podium; organic tapestry woven from spirit to spirit by Spirit through poems, mosaic of new community rooted in genuine expression dictated by the moment. Topics ranged from the prison of manhood, academia and the politics in hiring versus skill as a true teacher; poem themes and topics includes "light of the horses", Rumi and Dogen, other selected works. Tzvi, a walk-in guest and poet joins and contributes love of the beats, his father's influences and work, no accidents. "We can't escape what we are and that is the bars of our prison and the doors of our liberation." May we all weave and join together in authentic expression of life and experience, one word-thread at a time.
Part One: To listen (55:26) or click here.....for direct link click here
Part Two: To listen (32:01) or click here.....for direct link click here
Part Three: To listen (32:32) or click here.....for direct link click here
9/1/2016 Commencing the Ground and Sky Rochester Reading Series; North Star Books
Seeds wind carried to North Star Book Store from Buffalo, New York; Ground and Sky Reading Series is being born here: no mic, no list, no podium, organic community grown from spirit. Poetry and listening, sharing respectfully with what arises, building community with attentive ears. Barry, David, Heather and Joel form the community of poets to weave life and connection, listen as the organic forms dynamic verse and flux that is life, that is poetry. Come join us in this initial journey into the unknown as we evolve from beginnings into friendship and community. We set the ground before us now as we look to the sky for muse...
Part One: To listen (55:15) or click here.....for direct link click here
Part Two: To listen (46:23) or click here.....for direct link click here
7/31/16 Grounding Philosophy, Plans into Action: Exploring Self, Identity, and Ownership
In the second installment, Richard and Joel explore practical scenarios and studies investigating the power of words and the questions of phenomenology, including embodying forgiveness and deconstructing moral dilemmas (i.e., starting with Richard's discussion of The Iceman Cometh). Tying together these broad existential questions, and their relation of the practical (i.e., plans into action), Joel and Richard start to delve into the personal meaning of these topics and how they guide, including the potential and freedom to express words thought action and intention in any form. Joel and Richard's also explore a shared desire to elevate words and giving to their highest potential (and the humanness in our failure to always do so), words as a vow. The show ends with Joy Harjo's Eagle Poem, an honoring of this time and place and the connection shared. If you prefer to watch this show on Youtube, it is in two parts:
part 1:
part 2:
To listen (60:00) or click here.....for direct link click here
7/23/16 Healing and Inclusion at Richard Wicka's Home of the Future: A Place to Hold Sorrows, Space and People Together
Richard and Joel sit and explore being, life, and perspectives: existentialism, rationality, and beyond. Thought and language, feeling and music, and cutting into the depths of philosophy and life, the meeting place of these two things. At a point, the Truckdriver joins the conversation, together we explore in the spirit of humanness and brotherhood, searching how we might understand and evolve. Our attempts to do it better for each other; poetry and music, philosophy and being: delving into these things, revealing meaning, why this unfolding is important. If you prefer to watch this show on Youtube, it is in two parts:
part 1:
part 2:
To listen (59:44) or click here.....for direct link click here
4/17/16 Good Luck? An Examination of Fortune, Chance and Orchestration
How and why do we derive meaning? Does luck exist? Is there an Orchestrator? How do we reconcile Predetermination versus Free Will? Time travel, is it possible? Why do bad things happen?The persistent question remains, What is God? Jim Pray and Joel Lesses deconstruct the meaning and reason of luck and why we believe it. Jim Pray asks common sense questions from a common sense perspective as together Jim and Joel investigate in this spontaneous and casual conversation. The winding dialogue weaves together childhood memories, beliefs deconstructed, ascribing meaning and the need to blame God and plumming the depths of life, itself. The Ultimate Question is explored, stay tuned, and stay tuned in: there are events and there are our interpretation of events, the split gives need to making sense of this place through an interpretation. Jim and Joel also explore revising our personal narrative and history. Question and enjoy the questioning, the unfolding.
To listen (22:50) or click here.....for direct link click here
3/19/16 Honoring the Teachers of Love, Healing and Silence: Poems from Joel Lesses on Compassion and Suffering and its Resolution
In the first segment, in gratitude, Joel speaks and recites work regarding the profound healing dynamic of his former relationship: its dissolution, its meaning and the experience. In the second segment, Joel honors his teacher mentor and friend, Major Ragain, with a few works and talk exploring Major's influence. The Spiritual Cafe meets on the third Saturday of each month at 4:00 p.m. to celebrate the spirituality of compassion, social and economic justice, reconciliation, peace and joy through music, art, poetry, dance and storytelling in a coffeehouse setting.
First Segment: To listen (20:27) or click here.....for direct link click here
Second Segment: To listen (7:51) or click here.....for direct link click here
3/5/16 Finding Our Humanity, "How To Embody" Responses To Questions of Forgiveness and Other Teachings in Unity's Christianity: Reverend Mary Masters and Joel Dialogue
In this deep and sacred connection, Mary and Joel discuss the moderate, practical and mystical aspects of Unity. As fellow students together, shared wisdom insight and questions for one another are explored, deepening understanding of our humanness and humanity. Joel seeks to understand forgiveness and to resolve to do "non-harm." How do we embody: "Forgiveness?" "Presence?" "Faith?" And ultimately "how do we embody Love?" While bearing a cross and burdens is a part of our reality; the everyday acts of compassion and kindness transform these suffering into beauty, happiness and devotion. Many teachers are discussed, including Paul. The importance of our Creator is also explored. An reverent and important conversation on a vital topic, please listen and open to what is present before you.
To listen (49:14) or click here.....for direct link click here
2/5/2016 A Gentle Opening into Everything: Wadud (Sufi Order of Rochester) and Joel Peel Back Into The Freshness of Now, A Dialogue on Spirit
Sacred musing in friendship in a very ordinary way. Wadud and Joel expand the boundaries of exploration into a Quantum dialogue and understanding of the intra- and inter- modalities of "spirit," the truth that the word represents. This dialogue marks a significant shift and departure from other former conversations; from spirit to spirit from Spirit; drop all preconceptions and open to this... just this, open into the unfolding moment as we allow, an expanse inclusive enough, open as sky into space. Wadud is student and teacher of the teachings and speaks of the Universal Worship found in the Sufi tradition, also an opening acknowledging what is found in other "traditions" and "teachings." Joel and Wadud discuss G-d as G-d listens, and we honor It as It honors us with the gift of friendship. If you want to learn more about the Sufi Order of Rochester or contact Wadud Henry Cretella, search their website at
To listen (59:50) or click here.....for direct link click here
1/22/2016 No Toll Money Journey to Last Exit Poetry Reading: Nathan Stolte and Joel Lesses Voyage to Kent, Ohio
In this episode, fellow students Joel and Nathan travel to Kent, Ohio to Last Exit Books for a poetry reading. On the way, these "wordies" dissect language and life. The existential, mundane, recovery driven car ride allows all things: inclusive in it scope, open as the sky. Nathan forgets his wallet and doesn't notice till the PA toll. State Troopers almost called for a $3.55 toll? Oh, OK, just another day on Planet Earth. Joel and Nathan talk about Providence, pride, alcoholism and paradox. Sit a spell and listen. There may be a poem or two, there is a special word for someone special, you poets will understand. All things are given and granted by the One.
To listen (59:19) or click here.....for direct link click here
9/17/15 Allen Street Poets Talk: Sam Floyd and Joel Reconnect
Sam Floyd, poet and previous guest, and Joel reconnect to investigate time, where it has taken us and poetry as the fabric of life. Listen as the two old friends share the meaning of what is it to be human in world today, and optimism as an articulation of the soul. There is great promise for our future. Please listen...
To listen (42:27) or click here.....for direct link click here
9/11/15 New Friends: an Exploration into Baha'i
Joel and Pardees speak of spirituality and the universal aspects of being human. Pardees Goshtasb is a 25-year-old yoga instructor, jewelry designer, and hip-hop artist, who goes by the name of Komorebi. Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, Pardees grew up with the teachings of the Baha'i faith, which embrace all the major world religions of the past and strive to unite communities regardless of race, class or background. Pardees's main focus at the moment is polishing her art and spreading love and inspiration through her music. She is part of an up-and-coming collective of creative artists called Good Huemans.
To listen (44:17) or click here.....for direct link click here
3/9/15 "Starting in Nepal, Global Social Justice: A Practical and Spiritual Journey to Repairing the World with Rabbi Micha Odenheimer, Founder of Tevel B'Tzedek
Micha and Joel have an investigation into what is social justice its relationship to globalization, the need for change from a global perspective, humankind's obligation toward one another, empowerment and education of women and children in Nepal, healthcare and human rights, economic disparity and addressing the imbalance of power globally. The discussion includes messages of the prophets, mystical explorations from Judaism and each individual power to change the entire world. Tevel (<> is an Israeli NGO that aims to create Israeli and Jewish leadership passionately engaged in Tikkun Olam—fixing the world—locally and globally. Please listen... Then act..."
To listen (56:36) or click here.....for direct link click here