Going to worship at club passim...

Yesterday afternoon we schlepped into Cambridge to see Carrie Newcomer at Club Passim - the venerable folk music center of the universe in these parts - and it was a total gas in every way possible. 
What's more, after the concert I got the chance to invite Ms. Newcomer to Western Massachusetts for a future gig/workshop. NOTE: I will want to do this in concert with other like-minded arts and spirituality folk in the Berkshires so watch for your invite in the days to come! 

As a person of faith who celebrates the sacred within the ordinary, Carrie Newcomer resonates with my spirituality in so many ways. Her music is simultaneously sacramental and saturated with stories of ordinary people encountering strength and grace in the midst of their humanity. She began the show with this poem from her recently publish book - and musical CD - entitled A Permeable Life - a poem I will use to start my message during worship tomorrow morning:

I want to leave enough room in my heart

For the unexpected,
For the mistake that becomes knowing,
For knowing that becomes wonder,
For wonder that makes everything porous,
Allowing in and out
All available light.

An impermeable life is full to the edges,
But only to the edges,
It is a limited thing.
Like the pause at the center of the breath,
Neither releasing or inviting,
With no hollow spaces
For longing and possibility.

I would rather live unlocked,
And more often than not astonished,
Which is possible if I am willing to surrender
what I already think I know.
so I will stay open
And companionably friendly,
With all that presses out from the heart
And comes in with a slant
And shimmers just below
The surface of things.

Three things are worth lifting up about last night's performance as they connect with the trajectory of her artistic commitments:

+  First, her concerts and recordings are drenched in beauty and authenticity. No hype, no hyperbole, just exquisitely crafted acoustic songs of faith, hope and love. She plays her guitar with verve and carefully crafts a sound that invites the listener to come a little closer. Working intimately with her regular pianist, Gary Walters, a classical/jazz artist in his own right, her songs ebb and flow, carrying the audience on a journey towards the "heart" of what is real.  Her lyrics speak of tender mercies without sentimentality. And she sings with passion and clarity, too in a rich alto voice that is never shrill or affected. I confess that I was emotionally spent after this show having shed tears of joy and gratitude over and over as I basked in the wonder of her music.
+ Second, Carrie Newcomer understands her work as a calling. Leaving the club, my wife Dianne said, "With the exception of U2 I can't think of another artist whose music I want to share more with people in church!" I was thinking much the same and blurted out, "For me, her shows are my church for they fill me full to overflowing." At one point last night she said: It is so easy to become cynical... but to wake up each day and choose to hope... and then do it again... and again... and again after the inevitable disappointments ... to wake up and do it again that takes courage. A recent Tumblr posting pushes more profoundly re: her awareness that she has a calling as an artist of faith, hope and love:

On A Permeable Life I continue to explore the idea of justice. I was listening to one of my favorite radio programs, ‘On Being’, hosted by Krista Tippet (exploring the intersection of science, culture and spirituality). On this particular podcast civil rights activist, Vincent Harding, spoke about how every justice movement has been supported by music and song. Sometimes we make jokes about the “Kumbaya moment,” but Harding related stories about how songs were at the heart of the civil rights movement (and other movements). Near the end of the program he called for the new songs of hope and justice, ones that speak to our current condition and communities. After hearing this interview I kept thinking about how music connects us in ways deeper than words. When we sing together about the ideas that are vitally important to us something changes. Singing together is not just an intellectual exercise. Yes, songs happen in our minds and intellect, but they also happen in our bodies and in our spirits. Singing together about justice brings that hope into the world in new and tangible ways. That was when I wrote the song, “Room at the Table” which appears on A Permeable Life.

I wanted to write a new kind of hymn, a contemporary call to justice and an affirmation of our ability to work toward positive change. I’m pleased to hear from listeners and organizations that the song is already being sung by groups engaged in work for marriage equality, hunger relief, economic justice, peace and nonviolent conflict resolution, environmental action and sustainable living. I believe if we choose to share, there will be enough for us all. “This is how it all begins, let us sing the new world in. There is room at the table for everyone.“

+ And third her performances consciously evoke a renewal of our best selves. From time to time, she has collaborated with Parker Palmer on shows that are part concert and part conversation. Their goal is to both model civility in our age of mistrust and empower others to practice carefully listening and authentic respect. Two years ago one of our small groups in church read Palmer's Reclaiming the Heart of Democracy (after I saw Newcomer in concert.) Our "take away" was simple: we can craft space in our hearts and our lives for gentle honesty. This set in motion a series of summer conversations with community leaders around various potluck tables that gave us a chance to talk about gender equality, immigration and new ways to bring support to folks with mental illness.

I draw sustenance from artists like Carrie Newcomer - and particular joy and encouragement from her in particular. She knows that there is a sacred place within us all that needs nourishment. Further, she knows this is true in all types of people from all parts of creation. What a blessing.

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