Still Moving

In spite of everything, I still believe . . .

Here’s my song for week 10 of #songaweek2016.

You’re the wind and

I’m the good girl

trying to keep her skirt in place

You’re the music

I’m the stoic

fighting the urge to dance

you are the light

but I’m trying to hide

You’re the bread and wine but I have to fast

you’re the question I’m afraid to ask

you’re the letting go, I can’t hold you in my grasp

but over, under, and right through everything

your still small voice still calls

You’re the road and I’m the traveler

you lay your body down

you make a way through wilderness

draw me to the next horizon

spread your spirit out

You’re the paper I’m the pen

you give me space to think

let me bleed all over you

and you wear the mess like it means something

You’re the wave and I’m the sand

I’m trying to stand firm

but you keep on changing me


Lullaby for Climbers, Elephants and Divers (Shhh)

It’s already week eight of #songaweek2016! Here’s my song:

Climb up on compassion’s lap and have a good cry

Don’t be afraid to tell her how you’re afraid to die

Everybody feels it

no matter what they know

everybody wonders

where their last thoughts go

Shhh, shhhh

A pile of poached ivory burned in sacrifice

Some things should not be bought or sold at any price

Every year’s a circle

Every day’s a spin

We’re angel demons dancing

On the head of a pin

Shhh, shhhh

Maybe like an aging star you will expand

Grow brighter, hotter, stronger before the end

Shhh, shhhh

Dive down to the deeps of doubt, let the dark surround

Lose yourself where you started out, wait to be found

Let the waves wash over

let the great fish come

be swallowed whole

by this strange new home


Manifesto of an Unchosen Musician

Heaven and the music industry* have twisted themselves together in my brambled mind. I mean the heaven I used to believe in, and the music industry I used to dream about, and the way they both still affect me on a gut level I’ve not paused to think about before.

Something about being chosen, about higher-ups moving in mysterious ways, about knowing the right people, being in the right place at the right time.

And clashing with that, having a voice and a soul that feel too large for my timid self, that come tearing out sideways if I try to box them up – but not having enough of the mysterious something – the look, the drive, the belief, the secret decoder – to make it with the gatekeepers.

Something about scarcity, about me and scads of people I know or have heard, who keep making music and living big soulful lives because what else can they do? – and the airwaves being just too crowded, the need for the higher-ups to choose only some, the ones who work the hardest, clamor the loudest, get born into the right family at the right time.

And how I don’t feel like I really want to be chosen in a system like that, and how I feel more alive outside the contrived paradise, where kids and old people and loud people and shy people and generally awkward people and anyone else below the industry standard are making their music and living their lives, sans audience, sans halo.

No mansion for me, and no platinum record. I’ll just be out on the front steps of heaven, singing my guts out** with the rest of the unchosen.


*Whatever heaven may be, this ain’t it; and “the music industry” is hardly such an easily-generalized monolith, and there are many highly successful musicians making music I love and doing good authentic work. This post is about opting out of elitist mentalities, wherever they crop up, and not letting fear of being unchosen keep us from being who we really are, making music whether anyone listens or not, searching our souls despite the disapproval of the gatekeepers of faith or tradition or clout in any form.

**“You’ve been singing your guts out / Is that not enough to do?” – I love this phrase from a Luka Bloom song, whose lyrics also seem relevant to this post:


Extra credit – these songs:




I couldn’t sleep last night. Nathan and I are getting ready to release a new full-length album, one we’ve been working on for, oh, five years or so, and the title we chose for it is Thirty-Nine. The songs are records and reflections from my personal journey through faith and doubt, and our working title was “FaithedOut” or “Faith-Doubt” or – well, we couldn’t figure out how to spell it to make it work without being spoken, mute on an album cover. Faith and doubt, but also faithed out, as in worn out, churched out.

I’m turning thirty-nine this year, this month actually, and we decided, when the guy we hired to master the album asked us for the title last week, to call it Thirty-Nine, partly because of my age, partly because 1939 was a dark time in history (the Great Depression in the United States, Germany invades Poland and begins the second world war), and mainly because of the not-quite-fortiness of it, the almost-there-but-still-slogging feeling of thirty-nine, no milestone, just faded-ness. 

That was all rolling around in my head last night, and I knew I wouldn’t sleep until I wrote something and put it to rest. Below is what I wrote. Most of my thirty-nine years have not felt like this, of course, but a considerable portion of my recent years have come closer to a “dark night of the soul.” I share this mostly to introduce some of the sentiment behind our new album title. Yeah, it’s really my wordy and hype-aversive way of starting a “launch” for the new album – coming to you (for free through Noisetrade!) on October 26th.

Thirty-nine is an unholy number. Noah waited forty days and forty nights in the ark while it rained and everything outside drowned. Moses spent forty years in the desert, and only then began his long journey leading Israel to the promised land. Jesus fasted forty days in the wilderness before he started his three years of work that changed the world.

On the thirty-ninth day, in the thirty-ninth year, nothing happened. In the wilderness, in the womb-like tomb-like ark, it was only one more of a long string of the same – wandering, hungry, lonely, in the land of unknowing, a heart forsaking and forsaken.

It’s the second-to-last year, or day, of the long dark nothing. I’ve been keeping count, and I know it, but another year, another wasteland of a day, awaits me after this one. Even as hope begins to germinate. Forty is the pattern I know from my thirty-nine-year history reading Bible stories. I know that after forty has passed, something new begins.

So in the dark, on yet another impenetrable night in year thirty-nine, I feel tiny cracks in my heart. Something new pushing inside. An olive branch and a rainbow, a burning bush, food, water and comforting angels might be in store, on the path up ahead.

The dark still whispers fears in my ears, still tries to dress me down, show me wrinkles and withering and death to all things. But I’m nearly thirty-nine now. I’ve nearly made my peace with the dark, count her among my acquaintances now, need not run.

This next year will be bittersweet. And then, who knows? Who knows?

There now, dark. There, I’ve written it, or something like it, or something anyway. Now may I sleep?

The Rain

The rain, the rain, the rain on the roof. Her seven-year-old questions, large and painful as my 35-year-old ones. My quavering replies – it’s okay to not know . . . I don’t know for sure if we’ll live again . . . there’s so much that no one really understands . . .

I talk about Jesus. I say that we have stories from people who knew him that after he died he lived again, that he said we can too. She asks, what if they were lying? How do we know the stories are true?

She asks, what if I never see you again? What if after one of us dies we never see each other again? She is crying. What if? she insists. I attempt no more words. I am crying too, and we face one another in love through tears. The rain, the rain, the rain in the room.

I tell her that I do know for sure that I love her. I do know there is much goodness and beauty in the world, that life itself is mysterious in ways that comfort me, that I am trying my best to believe and hope that all will turn out well.

But what if it’s all a lie? she persists. And then she thinks some more. She talks about the trees, the kitty (who has climbed up the bunkbed ladder and nuzzled in next to her), the planets, the sun. Nobody could make that stuff up, she notes. That makes me think there must be a God, she says.

I agree, and I tell her there are people throughout history who have spoken of their experiences with God. I tell her I think God did bring forth life and does care about us.

It’s the best I can do. Into the silence creeps the echo of the words she prayed a few minutes ago, entreating God to help our friends feel better, our friends who last week held their newborn baby girls as they died in their arms. I wonder if she hears it too.

She asks if she can tell Jesus she’s sorry for all the bad things she’s done and then go to Heaven when she dies. I say she can always tell Jesus she is sorry for doing bad things. I have more to say about my hope in neverending life bigger than the Sunday School notions of Heaven she’s heard. But she speaks again.

Why would people just invent Heaven if it’s not really true? she asks. If I find out it’s not true, I’m going to be so mad, she rages, and she cries some more.

I was seven once. I had questions like these. But I didn’t ask them; at least, not for long. My parents and my Sunday School teachers had a ready answer for everything, in the form of a Bible verse or a doctrinal statement, and I went to sleep knowing I was saved and on my way to Heaven.

Tonight I failed to give my daughter the same thing. She handed me her painful questions and I didn’t make them go away like my parents did – at least for the short term. My questions never did go away; they just burrowed deeper and lay dormant, only to blossom forth in a withering sort of spring in my thirties.

Maybe I’m doing alright by my seven-year-old, letting her keep her questions closer to the surface, closer to the nourishing light of the everyday. She was crying tears of pain, even darkness and fear. But I hope they are cleansing tears, and I believe it is better to openly express the pain and darkness and fear than to feel ashamed of it, to believe it is incorrect, a sign of disobedience, and let it fester in a deep hole where it can do serious internal damage.

David the psalmist wasn’t afraid to express these things. He said, “Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath. Surely everyone goes about like a shadow. Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; they heap up and do not know who will gather.

“And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you. Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool. I am silent; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it. Remove your stroke from me; I am worn down by the blows of your hand.

“You chastise mortals in punishment for sin, consuming like a moth what is dear to them; surely everyone is a mere breath.

“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; do not hold your peace at my tears. For I am your passing guest, an alien, like all my forebears. Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more.” (Psalm 39)

Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again! Ironically, when I had no more words for Luthien, I sang her the “Barocha” blessing – “the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you, and give you peace forever . . . the Lord be gracious to you, the Lord turn his face towards you, and give you peace forever.”

But she did lie down in peace, soft kitty cuddled close, soft raindrops on the roof.