Monthly Archives: September 2007

Evening Thoughts

I write you from a hilltop house high above Newport Beach in California. Mom and I hiked up to the top of the neighborhood this evening and saw the city lights for miles and the stars above them. The day began cloudy; we flew into a sea of grey in the sky and down below. But the stars bode well for the weekend. I’m here with Mom for a day of speaking on books, several days of writing and occasional meanders down the shore. It should be good. Here’s a bit of a poem I scratched out the other day to get the inspiration flowing:

It’s a getting up
A keeping on
The singing of an endless song
A turning round until you’re right again.
A setting to,
A journey on,
The dance to an eternal song,
A crazy tune that never seems to end.

It’s the high road up to heaven
And it just keeps windin’ round,
Up to laughter, down to sorrow,
Through the nights and new tomorrows
And though I’m breathless, still it seems that I am bound,
To journey on.

Life feels like that sometimes! (Especially when, like me, you act like a gypsy from days of old.) Come October fourth, I’m home for good. Or at least a month. But meanwhile I intend to keep up the crazy song and sing my heart away to this endless dance of a life. Here’s wishes for music to you all too. Keep up that crazy dance!

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Celtic Music

Since several of you asked… I thought I’d post my favorite Celtic albums (go on, twist my arm). There is just something about Celtic music; soulful, keening, mournful, glad, and sometimes all at once! Here are my favorites with further details:

Celtic Visions (Instrumental, Artist: John Mock, Green Hill Music) – My first Celtic CD. Traditional Irish melodies put to symphony. Just the sound of the first strains can send me into a contemplative mood.

Celtic Portraits (Instrumental, Artist: John Mock, Green Hill Music) The second in the series, also full of traditional and a couple of original melodies in symphony arrangement. There is an added drama, an extra flavor of depth to this one. I first heard it while driving up into the Rockies, so maybe that influenced my perception.

Celtic Highlands (Instrumental, Green Hill Music) The Scottish flavored final CD in the trio. Mournful bagpipes, penny whistle, toe tapping, buoyant while yet quite mournful. Sounds like Scottish history in song if you ask me.

Celtic Fantasies (Instrumental, Artist: David Davidson, Green Hill Music) The violin on this album is breathtaking, it seems to weave a small world of melodic enchantment. Every piece is arranged around the violin as this album was done by David Davidson, one of the best violinists in the music business. We heard him in Nashville, no words to describe it.

Celtic Crossings (Instrumental, Artist/Guitarist: William Coulter) I bought this on a whim with some Christmas money and love it more every time I hear it. William Coulter is an acoustic guitarist and all his albums are done on acoustic instruments with fellow musicians. There is a real hearthside flavor to the music, as if you were present watching bards play around a fire. I love finding good, acoustic collections like this

The World Turned Upside Down (Instrumental, Artist/Guitarist: William Coulter) Ditto to the above; this one is not quite so Celtic in its roots, but so beloved in my house, I had to include it.

Celtic Christmas Spirit (Voice/Instrumental, Artist: Caroline Peyton) Caroline Peyton voiced some of the princesses in a couple of Disney movies (I think) and she has a lovely Celtic sound. The songs (not at all Disney) are traditional Celtic tunes that she selected and often sings in Gaelic.

The Visit (Voice/Instrumental, Artist: Loreena McKennit) Loreena is one of my favorite artists in the world. (I’m seeing her in concert next week!) She has a gift for music I think, and travels all over the world setting her albums in the musical flavor and history of certain regions. This is the one she did after spending extensive time in the UK.

Elemental (Voice/Instrumental, Artist: Loreena McKennit) The first album Loreena did; all traditional Irish ballads and folksongs with her own haunting arrangements.

Whisper to the Wild Water (Voice, Artist: Maire Brennan) Maire, (pronounced Moya) is one of a large Irish family of Gaelic-speaking musicians. She is well known for being a member of the Irish group Clannad, but has begun her own career in which she combines her beautiful Celtic music, sung often in Gaelic, with the love of her Christian faith.

The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly (Voice, Artist: Kate Rusby) I just discovered Kate Rusby, an acoustic musician and vocalist from the UK. She takes traditional old folk songs and ballads and sings them to her own mellow arrangements. I listened to her all through the Lake District and felt right at home. Her voice is so warm and earthy, her music so natural, it is a comfort to listen as well as delight.

All right. That ought to do for now. I could go on you know. Hope that begins some Celtic inspiration for you all, and if you know of some outstanding ones I’m missing, please post! I’m always on a quest for Irish music old and new.

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Soundtracks to life

If there is one thing about this technological age that I love with shameless abandon, it is the presence of music in my mundanest moments. There’s an awful lot of gladness to be gotten out of cleaning if you do it while waltzing to Josh Groban’s So She Dances. There’s a secret abandon to be had in twirling round to a lively fiddle on an early morning walk when the neighbors are still asleep. And road trips with music, well sometimes the sky and song seem to meet and make a dance all their own. Music has long been my companion and writing muse. I love all sorts, especially Celtic.

But a few albums have grown to be soundtracks to my life. Their songs are so vivid a part of certain days in my life that to hear them is to live the loves and griefs of those days again. They are companions, and often, teachers that have walked with me through doubt, through moves, through uncertain days. Their melody and poetry were a faithful rhythm to ground me, to keep me strong throughout the different dramas through which I walked. So I thought I’d recommend a couple, just for fun. It’s always delightful to find a new artist, discover a new trove of music. So here are some of mine, and if you have any yourselves, well, let me know!

Fernando Ortega’s Storm is one of the real soundtracks to my life. I first discovered this particular album with my friend Gwen. We listened to him in the autumn, driving down old dirt roads lined with changing leaves and played our favorite bits (the guitar solo in Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent) over and over again. I rediscovered this album last year on my trip up to PEI and the message of his songs, the woven themes of God as Savior, Redeemer, present in our days, tender toward our yearning, came strongly to me. I would set my prayer book open on the passenger seat, turn on the music and pray. Those long hours of music mixed with autumn hills brought about a renovation of faith in me when I was struggling to live close to God. I still get slightly teary at the song Sing to Jesus; so simple, so poignantly true.

Celtic Visions was the first celtic CD I got, given to me by my brother Nathan on my fifteenth birthday. It’s probably still my favorite. It’s one in a series of three collections of traditional Irish melodies in symphony arrangement. This is my afternoon in the mist with candles and a good book sort of music. I put it on, sit down with my tea and feel mysterious and happy and wistful all at once.

And then, of course, Rich Mullins. I still get sad that I can’t have a talk with him face to face. His music has companioned more phases in my life and probably taught me more than almost anything I can think of. I first heard Songs when I was thirteen, on a winter foray into the southern Colorado mountains. My entire family belted out Sing Your Praise and Awesome God all the way up those narrow, snowy passes. But we all got quiet when Calling Out Your Name came on. We still do. As I grew up, I discovered his other music, especially the Liturgy, Legacy and Ragamuffin Band album. The Color Green is one of my life songs.

And lastly, for now, an album I’ve just discovered in the past year: the soundtrack to The Village. A lovelier, more yearning violin you’ll never hear. It mesmerizes me.

So there you are. Autumn is a good time for music; it’s a pleasure to find a song to heighten the passion of crimson leaves and bring out the mystery in the brooding of a good storm. The first snow is supposedly rolling in over the mountains and I’m away to light the candles and start the music singing…

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It’s in the air…

I’m home and I can feel it… that first morning chill that signals the advent of my favorite season: autumn. I was flipping through my old copy of The Story Girl the other day and found its pages full of pressed autumn leaves from last year. I had forgotten that while I was in PEI I had gathered great handfuls of crimson maple and golden oak leaves and pressed them in my storybook. It was like stumbling upon a treasure. They are now tacked up on my bright blue walls; small stars of color to welcome these mellow, brooding days. I’m in a nesting mood; filling my baskets with crisp apples and berries, replacing the summer art I always tack on my walls for more contemplative pictures by my favorite artists. I find a cooking streak flaring up in me of late, egged on by the yearly task of putting up applesauce and peaches for the winter. Candles are now my regular companions, sweaters and shawls have taken up their old familiar posts and the world seems blessedly smaller somehow as the earth and I both draw in our souls for winter.

I guess in part I’m in a mood to celebrate the goodness of my life within the circles of home. If you glance at my “About” page, you will see that I have removed the “soon to be student at SPU” phrase from the basic descriptions of my life. The decision not to attend school full time is one that took the summer to complete, but it is the fruit of all that I have learned and prayed and seen in the last year. It is a huge change for me because I was pretty convinced that going to some grand college would answer most of my life problems. I was accepted to King’s College London and St. Andrew’s in Scotland, as well as SPU and felt that the life of intellectual pursuit, lived independently of family for awhile would answer the hungers and drives of my heart. Autonomy. Independence. Fun. Intellect. Surely I thought, these things would make me happy. And I thought that a summer in Cambridge ought simply to seal the deal.

It did not. And more than that, I found God gently unraveling my desires, altering the shape of my thought, challenging the cultural attitudes I had so easily ingested. It’s a hard process to explain. I am so fresh from the journey that the images are bright, but the words not yet coherent. I can only say that God taught me to treasure home, community, and family in a way I never had. And he taught me by showing me the emptiness of intellect when it is severed from relationship. He challenged my cultural expectations of being young and autonomous by letting me be quite alone, quite intellectual and frankly, quite discontent. As the days passed the conviction grew in me that real life and godliness is lived out in the context of relationships. That happiness is generally found in fellowship. Morality is crafted within accountable relationships. Godliness is formed by service. Knowledge is a living thing that can only be healthy when it is tempered by love. He showed me that art, story and song and beauty in all its forms express his heart as well as any theological statement.

And so I began to wonder if my yearning to get “away” was driven mostly by cultural expectation. I began to wonder if intellectualism would leave me with a cold heart. I began to wonder if hours of prescribed classes would make me a better writer, or lover, or follower of God. I began to wonder if our culture is one of ingrown autonomy that we have blindly accepted by believing that families ought to just grow apart. I began to wonder if independence was the marvelous virtue I had assumed it to be. I began to wonder what road would lead me to godliness, gentleness, laughing ease and love of beauty. And the road I have felt convicted to choose, is a road that has led me back here, to the old circles of home and the new task of writing.

I am glad, so deeply glad in my decision. Even in this first month I have spent unprecedented hours in writing, in crafting words, reveling in God’s beauty as it is expressed in story and thought. But I have also lived the rhythm of my hours in the company of my family. Their loves demands my heart and service, my work and patience. I am not left to the chill of my own autonomy but am graciously called daily into community. And I can’t see how that is a bad thing. This sort of decision isn’t for everyone. Most of my friends go to college and they are all godly and wonderful. Joel’s the best guy I know and I just dropped him off at SPU with every conviction that God was happy at the fact. I have nothing against study, nothing against a healthy intellect. I fully intend to continue a rigorous self education and have the usual stack of books at my bedside.

I’m just all for family; all for beauty and a life that is steeped in grace. I’m all for rebuilding the relationships we’ve lost, for repairing a wholeness of self that unites mind and heart in a life that blesses everyone around it. I’m for challenging a culture that tells us family is unimportant. I’m for changing what is dark and redeeming what is lost. I’m for beauty. I’m for gentleness. I’m for simplicity, and surprisingly, humility. I’m for wisdom and service. I am for art and music. I’m for family feasts. I’m for life in all its goodness.

So that’s about it. Life changing decisions are never easy to explain. I’ll do better in ten years but if you stuck with my rambling this long, Lord bless you. Your reward is a glimpse of the apples that grew in the orchard at Silver Bush on PEI. Happy autumn!

 

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For the Road

I’m heading home through the rain grey clouds of lovely Seattle today. We saw so many lovely things and wandered delightful places – I’ll write of them soon. For now, here’s a poem from beloved old Bilbo, a poem for the road:

 Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on,
Under cloud and under star.
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen,
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green,
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone.
Let others follow, if they can!
Let them a journey new begin.
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

Still ’round the corner there may wait
A new road or secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun. 

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Saturday in Seattle

We are just waking up after our third night in a row of staying up far too late, though last night was well worth it. The concert was amazing, in a beautiful old club downtown with rows of star lights for a stage background. Once in awhile you come into the presence of clear, strong musical ability and its beauty is startling. That’s how I felt last night. Over the Rhine has built such a beautiful sound over the years, his masterful improvisation on the piano, her passionate voice. I had no idea what a treat I was coming to see. I love seeing artistry in all its God-breathed grace. Today we’re in for a bit of earthy art; a drive up into the Cascades with a picnic and some soaring sort of soundtrack for accompaniment. It’s a good way to end the summer.

I was intrigued by some of the comments on the last post (hey Uncle Wiley!), and want to write more on some of the things I’ve been thinking about loneliness and community and the need we have in our time to draw back into relationship with each other. I will write a longer post when I’m home, but for now I’ll say that one of the abiding griefs of my own life, and something I have observed as becoming epidemic in the lives of others, is a deep loneliness. There are countless individual causes for it, but I think they all stem from the fact that we live in a modern world that is becoming increasingly isolated because of media, technology and the fragmentation of traditional community. But we are also a culture that is highly individualistic in values and our view of our own lives. Life is about finding my work, my fulfillment, my call, (especially in the college years) at any cost, instead of valuing faithfulness to relationships. It becomes rarer and rarer to find people who love and believe as I do, but it is even harder to find basic, life-together fellowship. The old arts of home and hospitality and community (as in a local church, people who see each other on a daily basis, etc.) are being lost and it causes so much loneliness.

So, the short version of my thoughts is that I want to reclaim and recreate community, faithfulness, beauty, hospitality in my time. I’ve spent the last few years of my life looking for it. I felt so sure that there would be some college, some group, some town, some country (!), some Christian ministry that would have the fellowship and friendship that I craved. But no matter where I have gone, it has still eluded me. So I’ve decided that the only option left to me is to begin crafting it myself. To partner with a God who is Love and loves me and begin to renew that love in my own time. It has begun with my making choices to stay closer to my family, to build on the relationships I have, to seek out and renew friendships. But my searing hope is that I can take it farther. I want to someday create a physical home to shelter the lonely, to strengthen family and friends, to be a refuge of beauty, a niche of strong love in a cold world.

So, there’s a shot of unfettered idealism to begin your Saturday! I hope you find it full of music and beauty and friendship. Happy autumn day to you all!

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Gypsies again…

Well, we’ve been home a whopping three and a half weeks and tomorrow, Joel and I are off again. But while I’ll be home the following Monday, he will be settling in permanently to Seattle Pacific University. Due to some long-storied and very deep inner workings of Spirit and thought, I have decided not to attend SPU and will be writing full time instead. (Much more on that later.) But it’s a long trip up there, so I’m driving with Joel and we’re going to visit friends in Portland, catch an amazing concert with Over the Rhine and attend the debut party for Jeffrey Overstreet’s new novel, Auralia’s Colors. So, it will be a sort of gala ending to our summer.

In news from the home front, we had our first official day of autumn. I always feel that the season has changed when we light the fire for the first time, which we did today owing to a misty and glorious chill. We’ve decked the house out with candles and bunches of leaves in rust and gold tucked in among autumn fruits so that you feel a sort of harvest glow wherever you look. I’ve been pounding away on the first chapter of my current novel, finished it this weekend in time to get the family’s critique so that I can get it in shape for it’s planned proposal in three weeks time.

We had our last feast tonight with Joel, it’s sort of traditional with us to mark comings and goings with some sort of family meal. Joel invariably requests steak, for which we braved the cold and grilled out on the deck, only to have the grill die halfway through. (No good celebration is complete without at least two or three amusing mishaps.) We managed indoors and ended up round a candlelit table in the dimly lit dining room, savoring steak and potatoes and fresh feta and nut salad on our last evening together. We’re a tied-at-the-hip sort of family, all in a good way of course, and as I watched our meal tonight, sat back in my soul and observed our traditions and conversations, I knew a full-blooded love for the world we have woven. We all of us come and go, we travel and study, argue and work and love, but we do it from the center of a world of which each of us is inextricably part. There is a rich heritage of traditions, of conversations; meals shared, joys shared, griefs born together. We can never escape that world. Joel may be leaving, but he goes as an extension of us, and I think that is how it should be.

But it’s that weaving that is in part prompting some of my decisions. I see a modern world so bereft of that inner circle of solid love and shared beauty. One of the things I never thought I would learn this past summer was how rare it is to find deep relationships, to forge meaningful friendships in the bustle of our time. I have been lonely for friends most of my life and I’m am not the only one. I see people all around me longing for love, longing for the surety of that inner circle of a world for which, I believe, God created us. And I begin to think that the creation of that sort of a circle and the opening of it to the lonely hearted and forgotten of the wide world is one of the most important things I can do. This is a generation of people longing for a home; a home spiritually, relationally, and yes, physically. I may be lonely for friends, but I do have my family. I long to be family to those who don’t even have that.

So you see, I’m beginning this year with some deep hearted thoughts. They will form into more coherent ideas soon, but that’s a smidgen for now. Meanwhile, I hope to say hello from the road; perhaps you’ll get a glimpse of the vast valleys and barren peaks of the northwest. We might even stop and hike Multnomah Falls if we have time. Happy autumn to you all!

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