Posted by: Banta | March 4, 2016

If not now, tell me when

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If you like Carrie Newcomer’s music, you know that her story-songs speak straight to the heart. On Being’s Krista Tippett says, “They get at the raw and redemptive edges of human reality.” In all her work, Newcomer explores those places where the sacred meets the ordinary—a light in the window on a dark night, an empty chair, a laborer’s rough hands.

With each image from the commons, Newcomer reminds us that a simple shift in perspective transforms the most ordinary moments into something holy. The truth is, the holy is there all along, just waiting for us to notice. When we slow down and pay attention, the holy shines through. But in our multi-tasking distraction, our rush to the next thing, we too often miss it.

Holy is the place I stand

To give whatever small good I can

The empty page, the open book

Redemption everywhere I look

Unknowingly we slow our pace

In the shade of unexpected grace

With grateful smiles and sad lament

As holy as the day is spent

(from Holy As A Day Is Spent, words and music by Carrie Newcomer)

She also writes about hope—“the kind of hope that’s faithful, that kind that Niebuhr talked about: ‘anything worth doing will probably not be achieved in one lifetime. So we are saved by hope.’ And that’s a harder kind of hope to live with, because it’s easier to be cynical. I mean, when you’re cynical, you’re never disappointed,” she says. Newcomer reminds us that our task is to get every morning and work for good, practice peace all over again, even if what we hope for cannot happen in our lifetime.

Not long ago I had the pleasure of sitting close to the stage at a Carrie Newcomer concert. While this singer-songwriter-poet makes light of her reputation as a “Quaker celebrity,” she is indeed a strong voice for progressive spirituality, social justice and interfaith dialogue. She has collaborated and performed with a number of well-known authors, artists, scientists and progressive theologians—Parker Palmer, Barbara Kingsolver, Marcus Borg, Mary Chapin Carpenter and neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor, to name but a few.

Once referred to as a prairie mystic, Newcomer was born and raised in southern Indiana. She traces her Quaker faith to a service semester in Costa Rica during college. There she had her first encounter with an unprogrammed Quaker group. Based on the idea of “expectant waiting,” members sit in silence until someone has a message they wish to share with the group. There is no prearranged liturgy of prayers or readings.

Newcomer felt at home in the silence. Of her lyrics and poems she says, “My best language has always come out of the silence,” and “…my best prayers are songs.” For her, music itself is a spiritual practice because, as she explains, “You have to be present, you have to show up to your life.” You have to remain curious, to live your questions.

One particular song echoes in my head, a mantra worth repeating. Listen and see if you agree.


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