Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Permeable Life

I have loved the music of Carrie Newcomer for a long time. The song of hers that first drew me in, made me stop, made me go right into iTunes and immediately purchase it was The Gathering of Spirits.

How could such a joyous song bring tears to my eyes? I grew up singing This World is Not My Home. There was nothing good about this life. No, we were waiting for something better in Heaven. That is not the message of this song, however. What if this life is a “fine thing” as this song says? What if instead of "waiting" to go to Heaven, we work to make this "fine thing" of a life even better? What if this world is my home? Those are the questions I am increasingly asking as I journey in this life, and even at my age, coming to new understandings.

That song always puts me in mind of kitchen parties. They could be called something else in other locales, but here in the maritime provinces, a kitchen party is when people bring all manner of guitars and other instruments and everyone sits around - usually in a kitchen - (always the homiest room in the old farm house) to play and sing and share songs. I love parties like that, and I’m first in line to bring my old Martin when invited to one! Maybe, maybe, maybe The Gathering of Sprits is talking about one big, long and happy kitchen party, If so, I’m there. Count me in!

I began looking up, listening and purchasing more of her music. I could recommend some of her other songs, Holy as the Day is Spent, Betty’s Diner, The Fisher King. There are so many others I could link to here.

But I’m not going to. Today for this I Like It blog, I will be endorsing her latest album, A Permeable Life, which I’m thinking might be one of her best collections to date. 

The first  thing which 
immediately draws the listener in is the soothing sound of her music. She has the kind of voice you can listen to forever. Her songs tell stories, and the stories are about me and you and all the ordinary people just living life the best they can. Yes, the songs are real. Real people with real struggles, real loves, real hurts, real lives.

A Permeable Life comes with a companion volume of Newcomer’s poetry and essays. I was fascinated to read these writings and learn many of the stories behind the songs that have become my favorites.

If you are a faithful reader of this blog, you know I like first lines, it’s the first sentences of a novel that draw the reader in. The first lines of the first song, Every Little Bit of It, of this album seem to set the stage for the whole thing:

Just beyond my sight,
Something that I cannot see,
I've been circling around a thought,
That’s been circling round me

The rest of the album is about that - what she is thinking about, what we cannot see, but what is there. A light. Home. Hope. Hope as fragile as a feather, but solid as a wall. 

Whether it’s the drum beat's driving rhythm of Writing You a Letter or the sweet story behind  The Work of Our Hands, there is the thought of “home”.

The Work of Our Hands is a summery song of family and kitchens. You can almost hear the screen door slam behind you and the sound of mosquitos beyond.

I think one of the most beautiful instruments is the cello, and it is in abundance in the beautiful 
song Abide, which she wrote with Parker Palmer (who I have mentioned in a previous blog posting).

Here are some of the lyrics - 

There is a living water, a spirit cutting through. 
Always changing, always making, 
All things new.

If you've followed me this far today, and if you haven't clicked on any of the music links, don’t miss the dancing feet in this one - Room at the Table. If you only have time in your day to listen to one of her songs, make this be the one.

In this era where there is talk of building walls, of making them higher and ever more secure, when there is the talk of keeping people out, Room at the Table is a joyous and positive response.

I’m leaving two of my favorite songs until the end, Forever Ray and Light in the Window.

The actual story of Ella and Ray in Forever Ray is written in the companion volume of poems and essays. It's about Ella's husband Ray who begins filling their garden with statuary. I know. Simple, and maybe even a little weird, but yet you will not come away from the song without falling in love with the two of them.

I used to think hope was a solid thing, something we could absolutely count on. But what I'm coming to believe that hope is as fragile as the gossamer in your hand, something not to be held too tightly for fear of crushing it. And that is what I love about her lyrics, She presumes nothing.

Here are some lyrics from The Light in the Window.

We pass from mystery to mystery
So I won't lie
I don't know what happens
When people die.
But I hope I see you walking slow,
Smiling wide as sunrise grows,
I drop my map with a
thousand folds,
In the distance I see it glow
I can see a light.
There’s a light in the window.

If you wish to know more about her, there is a great interview with Krista Tippet’s wonderful On Being program, where she is called a “prairie mystic.”

I have given you the Youtube links for many of her songs. But, if you enjoy her music, I encourage you to purchase it for yourself.

NEXT TIME - back to books with an examination of horror in Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. If that name sounds familiar, it's because she’s the one who wrote Gone Girl.


  1. I like this blog along with the pictures. Well written! Love this part... "In this era where there is talk of building walls, of making them higher and ever more secure, when there is the talk of keeping people out, Room at the Table is a joyous and positive response."
    Interesting Blog, thank you.