Though apparently my mom has one of her CDs at home, I just recently have become familiar with the music of Quaker singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer. Carrie has a wonderful folk sound and has become a regular on my iTunes playlist as of late. Carrie is a poet, a theologian, a mystic and sings these folk songs with Appalachian and classical influences. Her eleventh (and newest) album, The Geography of Light, is coming out February 12th; the following is an excerpt from the press release:
The Geography of Light was influenced by Newcomer’s friendships and recent collaborations with influential authors, theologians and fellow songwriters, including Parker J. Palmer, Phillip Gulley, Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, Scott Russell Sanders, Barbara Kingsolver, Holly Near and Bernice Johnson Reagon. Many of the album’s tracks examine compelling ideas and questions arising out of her relationships within this community—the idea that things are not always as they appear; that good exists at the center of things; that life is a process of transformation; that there is value in simple things. Newcomer is one of the few singer/songwriters working within the progressive spiritual continuum, speaking about a shift in our culture, and insisting that the religious right does not have a monopoly on faith. She is not afraid to take on serious subjects, but Newcomer does so with a healthy measure of good humor and self-awareness.
I’ve been able to listen to the album for the past week or so and I highly recommend it to you. I also had a chance to interview Carrie recently. The interview is below:
1. Who is the most influential theologian you’ve read?
It is difficult to single out one single theologian. The works of Parker J. Palmer, Fredrick Beauchner and Thomas Kelly has profoundly moved me. But as an artist and songwriter I have been spiritually moved, challenged and encouraged by many writers. As a poet I’m drawn to conversations about the sacred that use human story, metaphor and poetry. It’s not surprising that I love the psalms. Wendell Berry, Barbara Kingsolver, Mary Oliver, Kathleen Norris, Anne Lamont and Marilyn Robinson have all had a large impact on my spiritual thinking.
2. What is one book you’ve read recently that has impacted you significantly?
Gilead by Marilyn Robinson. Gilead is a stunningly beautiful book. This book is the story of an elderly pastor in Iowa. His son was born late in his life, and he knows he will not be around when his son is a man. So the book is a series of letters he is writing to his son about life, love, and his relationship with God and the church, his reflections and his humanness. Beautifully written.
3. What helps you stay spiritually grounded while on the road?
I wake in the morning and sit in Quaker silence. It is a form of prayer and meditation that grounds me and reminds me of who I am. We are so distracted with so much to do and think about, our culture does not encourage us to slow down or listen to God, and to stay in contact with our inner landscape. It is extremely important for me to take the time to peal back the layers of distraction to get the heart of the matter each day. Silence can be experienced as an absence of sound, but I experience it in meditation a fullness of spirit. I also try to read spiritual poetry and writings daily. I write and journal as well. Writing is how I process my life and my experiences, and place them in context of my spiritual journey. I sing daily. I’ve often said that my finest and truest prayers have been sung while walking in the woods with my dogs.
4. Did you grow up in the Quaker tradition, or did you find the Quaker community later in life?
I discovered the Quakers later in life. At a certain point in my life I was very drawn to the peace and social justice tradition of the Religious Society of Friends. I also was drawn to the Quaker belief that there is “that of God” in everyone. That we all have a piece of light inside us and that piece of light is a part of God. No one has a larger or smaller piece of the light. What I mean is that women, people of different races, ethnicity, religious tradition or sexual orientation were all considered to be equally valuable spiritual beings. God loves the whole world, with no exceptions. I was also drawn to the silent worship. We talk so much to God, I wanted to develop a practice where I took more time to listen and just “be” with God.
5. Many people who are involved in the Emergent Church movement are very interested in conversations about the sacred and the secular. You seem to be an artist who cuts across those boundaries. How are you able to navigate both terrains?
I do cross secular and sacred boundaries daily in my life and work. But I guess I feel those boundaries are a bit arbitrary anyway. For me, the goal is to be able to see the sacred in the most ordinary experience, person or thing. When I can experience that of God in a beautiful church service, or on a walk in the woods that is a wonderful thing. My life is so much richer when I remember to experience the sacred when moving through my daily life, washing dishes, talking to people I meet, the smell of the autumn air, standing in the grocery line or having an bowl of soup with my daughter. I tell people I still play concert series housed in bars, and the next day I’ll play in a church -but I don’t change my show. It’s a way of walking through the world that is connected to being a poet, musician and seeker of God where ever I go and everywhere I look. I believe with those involved with the Emergent Church movement I am one of a growing number of voices that choose not to place God in such a small box.
CD Giveaway Contest
The contest was over in less than an hour and a half. Carrie Newcomer used to sing and write for the band, Stone Soup. The five winners who received Carrie Newcomer’s new album “The Gathering of Light” are: Drew Ditzel, Wendy Dewberry, Nicole Reibe, Pat Loughery and Eric Rhoda. Thanks all for participating!