Music and the Mystics (and some exciting book news!)

If you're reading this, you've stuck with me despite the fact that I've reneged on my promise to update my blog every week. Perhaps I should've said once every season instead. We have a new baby, we've changed jobs, moved states, and bought a house. And, in my scant nap time hours, my book is slowly making its way toward you, its readers.

Who has time for blog updates when the trees look like this?

Who has time for blog updates when the trees look like this?

So, thank you for sticking around and understanding. In this post you'll find some of the music that influenced me in the writing of Mystics and Misfits and some exciting book news. Mystics and Misfits: Meeting God Through St. Francis and Other Unlikely Saints releases April 17, 2018. In the meantime, if you can't wait, go over and pre-order it on amazon or at Mennomedia.  

Songs for the misfit in you:

1. Sandra McCracken, from Psalms, Song: all of them, particularly Send out your light;

 "Then I will praise him with my guitar, oh my joy, my joy." 

2. The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostle, all albums, particularly Lent and Advent

Clear and lovely harmonies by nuns who sing together, sometimes for five hours a day. 

3. Sufjan Stevens, from Carrie and Lowell, Song: John my Beloved

Always a misfit, sometimes Sufjan's music evokes an ache so deep, I want to weep for him and his pain. Because his pain is all of our pain: the awareness of our need for the God who calls us beloved.

4. Bjork, Song: Wanderlust

Weird, wonderful, woeful, and often disturbing, Bjork's music should always be on a soundtrack for misfits.

5. Fiona Apple, from The Idler Wheel, Song: Every single night 

This song. I can feel the swirling thoughts in Fiona's head. 

6. Patty Griffin, from Downtown Church, Song: Move up

Patty Griffin should always be nearby. For any occasion. 

7. John Micheal Talbot, from The Lord’s Supper. Song: We shall stand forgiven

“Lord, have mercy”  I am not the one to ask if this 1979 album, which is basically a Eucharist liturgy, has stood the test of time. It’s opening violin on “Prelude” is part of the soundtrack of my childhood; I would lie on my back in our living room, listening to this record play, wallowing in the deep, angsty feelings it elicited in me. Talbot started an intentional monastic community and writes about my beloved St. Francis. This album is a glorious celebration of the Eucharist, in its beautiful Catholic hippie way.

8. My beautiful diamond, from All Things Will Unwind. Song: We added it up.

I hear a quieter voice, and it says Love binds the world, forever and ever and ever, love binds the world.” I can hear mystic Julian of Norwich, speaking in that quiet voice, a truth that was revealed to her in visions of divine love. Julian says, "I saw that He is to us everything that is good and comfortable for us: He is our clothing that for love wrappeth us, claspeth us, and all encloseth us for tender love, that He may never leave us; being to us all-thing that is good, as to mine understanding."

9. Rain for Roots, from Waiting Songs. Song: Come light our hearts

Even though it's an Advent album for children, I couldn't stop listening to it as Christmas passed and the new year began. These are messages of hope that we need in dark times. "For you, Oh Lord, our souls in stillness wait. Truly our hope is in you....We come as we are, oh heal and restore, come light our hearts."

10. Bruno Coulais, the soundtracks to The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. Song: Song of the Sea

Go watch these movies if you haven't already. My kids and I loved them and the question at the end of each viewing was, "Mom, why are you crying?" They are full of beauty, heartbreak, longing, and fantasy. I dare you to watch them yourself and not cry. 

11. Enya (and her sister Moya Brennan): watch them sing with their other sisters in their home church choir in Ireland

Enya's music has been the soundtrack to many important life events. 1)Years ago, when I was in college, I would crank up Enya as a passive-aggressive hint to my roommates when they were being too loud in the living room. My roommates still tease me about it.  2)When I was deciding whether or not to go to grad school in Scotland, it was an Enya song that decided it for me. 3)When I met my husband years later, we discovered a mutual love for Enya. 4)I walked down the aisle to the Song of David by her sister Moya Brennan (another favorite) in our wedding. 5)And when I was in labor with my babies, I listened to Enya. 6)Her music accompanied the labor of my writing this book too. 

Speaking of exciting book news...

I am thrilled to announce that author Jon M. Sweeney has written a lovely foreword to my book. The writer of dozens of books, Sweeney is perhaps best known as a scholar of St. Francis. Sweeney's writing has certainly inspired my own book: you'll find the evidence of his influence all over its pages. 

And I'm also excited that some wonderful writers are already sending in their endorsements for the book. Among them: both fantastic authors and friends Amy Peterson and D.L. Mayfield, gifted Catholic writer and writing teacher Kaya Oakes, professor, spiritual director, and author Marlene Kropf, and...wait for it...RICHARD ROHR! Yes, that Richard Rohr, author of Everything Belongs, Falling Upward, The Enneagram: a Christian Perspective, and Eager to Love. I almost fell out of my chair when I read his endorsement. It's quirky, generous, and kind, just like his writing. 

I can't quite believe that so many of the writers and thinkers that have influenced me in the writing of this book are aware of it and supporting it. It feels as though St. Francis himself might've prayed a blessing for me. I hope he wouldn't mind what I've written about him. 

 

A mystical cover

I'm happy to share with you the cover to my book, Mystics and Misfits, which will be forthcoming from Herald Press in Spring 2018. One friend noted that it looked like a Medieval Irish Mystery Novel. There's some truth to that...if only because, in the book, I write letters to a few mystics from the medieval period; there is also an element of novel-like storytelling in the narrative of my life in intentional community and in the biographies of the mystics. 

If you'd like to subscribe to my blog, you can more readily get more of the details that I'll share in the coming months of the release and pre-order dates. For now, I hope you enjoy this cover as much as I do. 

Dorothy Day and new pieces

This month, I set aside my very messy beginning (Simplicity) and began the section in my book about Hospitality. My resident mystic is Dorothy Day. I highly recommend Day's book Loaves and Fishes. In it, she tells the story of the Catholic Worker movement, a movement that began during the Great Depression. They started with a magazine, trying to highlight the plight of the poor and marginalized; this lead to houses of hospitality which offered shelter to many of their friends who couldn't afford to live anywhere else. After this, they opened communitarian farms to feed and teach those they encountered and befriended in the poor city streets of New York City.

Day's story is honest, funny, and inspiring. She is gracious in her telling of difficult people, honest about the mistakes they made, and fervent in her passion to love others. Her story is also terribly sad both for the time it was written and because it is still so timely. She tells of immigrants stuck in the cycle of low-income housing, rising rents, and cheating landlords. She tells stories of so many who are still ignored in our society.

As someone who grew up privileged, I've know that I've often been unaware of the struggles of others, not from intention but because wealth and privilege have the power to isolate us from the struggles of others. Day's words about poverty are moving: "We need always be thinking and writing about it, for if we are not among its victims its reality fades from us. We must talk about poverty because people insulated by their own comfort lose sight of it."

I love this Dorothy Day icon by Br. Robert Lentz O.F.M.

I love this Dorothy Day icon by Br. Robert Lentz O.F.M.

I have two pieces that happened to appear on the same day this week. They both explore supernatural things but in completely different ways.

My piece for Off the Page points to a new genre of YA fiction: agnostic angels. I explore the ways our fantasy genres tell us about ourselves and our existential longings.

In a rather more personal piece for Good Letters called Parting the Veil, I explore the idea that the nightmares and visions I've had since I was a child might be mystical in nature.

Spiritual Hospitality

Recently, a friend wrote an online piece about her personal decision to stop watching a popular television show. The response to her essay was swift and defensive: while a few folks actually engaged with her piece, most of them were so offended that they wrote derogatory responses in the comment section, telling her to "lighten up" and "suck it up, princess."

When a few of our friends talked with her about it afterwards, the discussion turned to listening. I made the remark that many of those commenters weren't actually hearing what she said but were reacting defensively, as if my friend had poked them and they were swatting her hand away.

Our wise theologian friend Kelley noted that part of mindfulness is learning the practice of waiting a few moments before we react to what someone has said. True listening means opening ourselves to others instead of biting back, hearing their stories instead of nurturing our own hurts and aches.

As I sat down to read Henri Nouwen's daily devotional book Bread for the Journey, I was delighted that his message flowed right into the midst of our conversation. I love it when that happens. Nouwen says that listening is so important that is it a Spiritual Hospitality.

"To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept."

I had to reread this passage to let it seep in. When we truly listen to others, we aren't eager to justify ourselves, our existence or our opinions. Instead, we are "free," yes, liberated to welcome what others have to say or express.

I don't know about you but that seems nearly impossible to do. Many times, when I react defensively to a comment or critique someone has made to me, it's because I have already felt the truth of it in my own heart. Hearing another express concerns, thoughts, and feelings, especially when they seem to contradict what I feel and believe is so difficult.

I didn't get the whole picture until I read the next day's passage in Nouwen's book. It turns out that this "interior stability" which we draw from is not our own inner strength. Instead, Nouwen says, it is not ourselves but the Spirit which "creates in us a sacred space where the other can be received and listened to."

When I read Nouwen's words, I don't solely think of this as a message for those negative commenters to hear. The truth is, this is a message for me, a daily, even hourly, reminder that all the people in my life need to be listened to.

Not long after my friend's piece went online, I decided to write a comment of my own. I wanted to defend her, to scream at those rude commenters and bite back. I wonder now if I shouldn't have said anything at all. Because the truth is, those commenters have stories too that need to be heard. I wonder that many of them are writing from a place of loneliness, searching for a connection, even if it is online. Many of them are reacting out of their own pain and grief. Is my small comment, meant to defend my friend, only another way to dismiss others as unheard?

As with many lessons, the learning starts in the smallest, most intimate ways. Many days, amidst the bustle of morning school routines, my children leave for the day, rushed and unheard.

As my son crawls into my lap while I type, I feel the urge to stop, to hold and rock him. I am starting at home, showing this kind of hearing hospitality to my children.

 

The Worst Church Advertisement

A post for Good Letters blog


I don’t mean to brag, but I attend your ideal church.

If you’re a millennial or a 30-something interested in social justice and dissatisfied with your tradition, your suburban congregation, or your mega-church, and feeling a bit None-ish, then I have the church for you.

What’s on your list of descriptors for the perfect congregation, you social justice-y-leaning, about-to-give-up-on-church looker?

Local community oriented?

Guess, what? I walk to church. And we are hyper-community oriented; we are an intentional community. I think you might like that we’re a little bit radical. We actually live on the same property together!

Authentic?

We provide a space where people allow themselves and others to be vulnerable. There are no fakers here. Just real folks sharing their lives and showing you who they really are.

We are an intergenerational group from ages one to eighty.

Socially concerned?

Yep, most Sundays, we pray for peace in the world, for refugees, for both sides in war-torn regions. We even pray for our enemies!

Kid-friendly?

My seven-year-old daughter reads scripture during worship. My one-year-old toddles through the middle of the circled gathering. It’s not unusual for one of the younger kids to shout out commentary of the scripture or a song. We aren’t fussy and we expect that children will clap their hands and make noise. Sometimes—gulp—we even choreograph a dance for them.

A different kind of leadership and worship style?

We are a lay-led congregation. There are no microphones or stages. Our circular gathering makes it less important who is leading; we don’t mind if you’re a man or a woman, if you’re single or married, young or old, just as long as you are willing to serve. Until recently we used an overhead projector from the nineties for song lyrics. The sheen of worship doesn’t overpower the realness of people. And even with all of this, we still follow the lectionary. We’re kind of a low church with a dash of high church.

Doesn’t it sound great? You’re more than welcome to come for a visit. But just a word of caution: Once you get here, you might want to leave.

Keep reading over at Good Letters