By EEWC Update editor Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Readers who attended the 1998 and 2000 EEWC biennial conferences will remember Kathryn Christian’s magnificent music direction. At the 2000 conference, her life partner Brian and baby daughter Lydia were with her. Being quite sure that EEWC members would be interested in knowing this young family better, I interviewed Kathryn and Brian early in December. They spoke by phone from their home in northern Michigan. I wanted to know about their lives, their pilgrimage, their ministries, the importance of music in their lives, and their experience of marriage and parenthood. They shared freely and honestly. These are their stories.
Kathryn and her only sibling, an older brother, grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan “in a beautiful log cabin right near the woods.” She relished the outdoors, spending as much time there as possible. Her father was an attorney, her mother a poet and teacher.
Although they were a close-knit Catholic family, they didn’t attend church until Kathryn was in middle school, at which time her mother had a personal conversion experience and persuaded the family to attend Mass regularly.
The summer Kathryn was 15, her life was changed drastically. She was participating in a traveling adventure camp, and while the group was in Utah, an urgent message came for Kathryn, along with arrangements for an immediate flight home. “I remember when they came, and I knew there was a tragedy in my family,” Kathryn said, “I just assumed that my mother had died. My mother had been ill for many years, so I had already lived with that kind of ongoing stress.”
But her mother had not died. Her father, who chaired the board of Mercy Hospital in Muskegon, Michigan had been killed in a private jet crash, along with all the other board members.
“When they said my father had died, it was such a strange shock,” Kathryn recalled. “While I was adjusting to his death, I also felt responsible for the care of my mother. And during this time, I had a big conversion experience-a deep awakening. That was a big turning point in my life, because I really needed to reach for a Source greater than I for strength and healing-and survival.”
As she spoke, I thought of a song that Kathryn composed many years later, based on the writings of Julian of Norwich-a song that focuses on God’s motherly love.
Come Holy Mother
Let your mercy fall like rain,
Come, Holy Mother
Still my soul, and heal my pain
You enfold me with your love,
Giving cover with your wings. . . .
God my Power, God my Rescue,
When all is dark and I cry out,
You’re the One who hears me.
After her deep awakening, Kathryn started private prayer and began leading a group at her Catholic church and singing at Mass. “I was very involved, ” she said. “It was then that I started really using my musical gifts.”
She had done some singing and drama during middle school but had kept her vocal talents hidden from her family. “I would wait until I was sitting alone in the car, while someone went into a store or something. I’d opt to stay in the car, and then I would sing.”
I asked why she had kept her music secret. She laughed and said she had developed several theories over the years, attributing it at first to the shyness and embarrassment that so often comes at the threshold of adolescence. Later, she wondered if perhaps she had purposely concealed her singing abilities from her extremely close family so that she could have something she could call entirely her own. “It was just me, mine; no one has to know about it! But later I was disappointed that I never sang for my dad,” she told me.
“My spiritual awakening at that point, which really came about in my suffering, was tied to my music. So music and spirituality for me have been connected from my spiritual start. All of my human experience came out in my music-expressing myself through music in praise and prayer and agony and ecstasy.”
The Next Step
After high school, Kathryn majored in religion at Oberlin College and earned her bachelor’s degree. “I studied some music but didn’t major in it,” she said. “I studied world religions but was very unclear about my path-what I wanted to do. Music was always there, although given my ideas about how to make it in this world, I figured music could always be only a hobby. I needed a real job.” That way of thinking partly came out of her “family stuff,” she said. “We’re degree collectors, the more the better! I even considered law, following my father’s path. My mother had also been in law school but had to drop out due to illness. God saved me from that path,” Kathryn said, relief showing through in her laughter. “It wasn’t my path.”
After graduation from college, Kathryn married a young man she had met there. Looking back now, she says she entered that marriage “for wrong reasons-unhealthy reasons. I was a rescuer, and he needed some rescuing.” He had been diagnosed with cancer at the time, but later recovered completely.
She was still unsure of her career when a friend on the faculty of New Brunswick (NJ) Theological Seminary, a Reformed Church in America (RCA) school, invited her to earn her master’s degree there. “So I went,” Kathryn says, “still not sure what I would do with the degree. Again, I started playing my guitar in worship, and I started writing music for the first time.”
During her theological studies, Kathryn volunteered to work for a few weeks one summer at Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in central Washington in a remote area of the Cascade Mountains. That decision would change her life forever.
At this point in the interview, Brian, who had been listening on a cordless phone as he walked around carrying 6-month old Lydia, came into the room. Lydia was becoming fussy. “Hi, Lydia. Mama’s coming.” Kathryn said soothingly. Then, addressing Brian: “Maybe we can switch phones, Hon, and I can nurse her.” Brian agreed to lead up to the point where Kathryn had left off.
“In humility, I can’t say I chose God,” he began, “God chose me.”
Brian grew up in Colorado as one of seven children in what he calls a “traditional Catholic home,” adding that he “did not suffer the wounds of traditional guilt-ridden Catholicism.” For him, the Roman Catholic Church was “a nice home,” he said, because of his attraction to the sacred.
At Colorado State University, he majored in forestry. (I remarked that his helps explain why Kathryn once told me Brian is her “mountain man.”) He stressed that anything that connects him to the wilderness holds great importance to him. “As music is to Kathryn, the wilderness is to me,” he explained, adding that growing up in Colorado allowed him to experience a joy beyond description because it made possible frequent wilderness excursions.
Right after college, he had what he described as “a profound awakening that was preceded by an incredible crumbling.” He was 24 years old. It was an awakening that would lead him to embark on countless wilderness journeys, listening for-and to-the voice of God.
“It was a traditional born-again experience at an evangelical church in Lubbock,Texas,” he said. “God grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, and it was such a decimating of my life and every dream and vision that I had.” He said he felt he must stand up for Christ. He felt God saying, “If you don’t stand up, you’re going to die in three years from the pain.”
“It was that intense,” Brian said. And he also heard God saying, “And if you stand up, your life is never, ever going to be the same.” So he stood up, “and there was just an incredible washing and cleansing,” he said. “and I knew it was never going to be the same. And it hasn’t been.”
Rocky Mountain High
Experiencing a state of personal crisis, Brian needed to be alone. “So the natural thing to do was to spend every free moment in the high country of the Rocky Mountains.” he explained. “I think it’s no accident that the prophets of our Judeo-Christian tradition have always flocked into the wilderness to hear the clear voice and give them a vision. There is an integrity of spirit in the wilderness-a primordial awakening that just draws us into that creative fire of God’s love. You taste it very profoundly when you’re standing at 12 or 13 thousand feet by yourself. I just wanted so much of it; it was an unquenchable thirst.” He began spending weeks and months alone in the wilderness.
He also experienced a new level of spirituality while on a cycling trip in Europe. It was a time when he felt God brought closure to the crisis and conversion that had occurred two years earlier. “I experienced so much a divine consciousness, a oneness, an incredible closeness to Jesus and God,” Brian said, the warmth and richness of the cycling memory evident in his voice as he told me about it.
He hoped and expected to have another such experience when he traveled to Alaska and worked among native Alaskan children in a village called Bethel.
But unlike the meeting between God and Jacob in the biblical Bethel, Brian’s experience at Bethel was not a major spiritual turning point. It was, however, a time of growth and learning from the native people in the village who were undergoing “an incredible identity search as their culture, though still intact, was crumbling.”
But he yearned deeply for something more. For one month, he stayed alone in Denali National Park-the 6-million acre wilderness area that includes North America’s highest mountain, Mt. McKinley. “The Alaskan wilderness is unlike any wilderness in the lower 48,” Brian said. “I was in the middle of a dark night of the soul, and I was expecting a breakthrough in my spirit there. But it didn’t come. And so toward the end of this month alone, I asked God, Why? I’m leaving more broken than when I came. And He said, ‘There’s still more work to do.’ And so I resumed the work I had come to Alaska to do- until one day God said, ‘You’re done.'”
Brian returned to Steamboat Springs, Colorado for the winter. But he had learned one major lesson: “I will never follow any voice but God’s voice.” he said. “So I’ve made a real effort just to listen to that quiet voice that speaks within all of us at every fork.”
He continued: “I was really a wanderer by now; I lived in Steamboat Springs, but I was really very free, quite ‘wild.'”
I interrupted his story to ask how he supported himself during this time. “I lived very simply. I taught skiing in the winter, and then in the summers I would travel and sometimes work in Steamboat,” he replied. “I did odd jobs; and if I had $200 in my pocket, I considered myself a millionaire. And I had no expenses.”
Kathryn, still nursing Lydia, chimed in on the other phone, “No house payments, no family. . .” Brian picked up the theme: “No car, no insurance-nothing. Just God. Just God and me.”
He described himself as being “quite out of sorts” when he came back from Alaska. “Life is very different when you live in the Alaskan bush. Everyone told me it would take six months to adjust. They were right!”
Brian began praying for God’s leading to the next step. He said he could see himself living as a hermit and began trekking to the Southwest in search of a hermitage. One night, in the Sangre de Christo Mountain Range above Santa Fe, New Mexico, he had a dream that he was speaking with a Native American man. In the dream, he was supposed to listen to him.
The next day, as Brian was hiking, he struck up a conversation with a man along the trail. The topic of religion came up, and soon they were discussing world religions. The man talked about the Hopi people, whose name means “people of peace.” Brian’s interest was especially piqued when the man mentioned The Book of the Hopi.
The Book of the Hopi was published in 1963 after the noted southwestern author Frank Waters had spent three years on a Hopi Indian reservation and had collaborated with a Hopi artist, Oswald White Bear Fredericks, who had provided the drawings that illustrated the book and had tape-recorded stories from older Hopis, which served as the book’s source material.
“I just got done perusing that book!” Brian exclaimed, adding that he wished he could meet the person who wrote it. “You can!” said the man. “My best friend is doing a documentary on White Bear, and you can go see him right now.” It all began fitting together for Brian-the dream, this man, and now White Bear. “I’m a slow learner,” Brian said.
But where was White Bear? “In Arizona, of course,” the man replied. Arizona is home to the Hopi nation. “So I put out my thumb for Arizona,” Brian continued. “White Bear and I became very good friends. He was 83 years old, an elder in his clan, and we became like grandfather and grandson.” The two men spent three days together, talking spirituality all through the night. “He was both Christian and Hopi,” Brian said, “and I admired how he had woven the two.” White Bear explained the Hopi way of mysticism and took Brian to Hopi sites and ceremonies. After one ceremony, White Bear took him to the desert and asked him repeatedly if he could hear the earth speaking. Brian could not. That night he asked White Bear, “Can you really hear the rocks and trees and the plants?” Then-after hearing White Bear’s yes-“Tell me how.”
White Bear said, “I pray about four every morning over by this rock, and there I listen. When I hear the voice of God clearly within me, I will hear the voice of God in all creation. And through the Spirit of God, I will be able to converse with everything.”
Brian took those words with him as he continued his pilgrimage and went on to spent nine months as a hermit. He told me what he learned.
“I realized that White Bear could listen with his spirit and that was what he was trying to tell me to do, not to listen with my heart or mind, but to let my spirit melt into God and melt into creation and just let the Spirit of God move through me freely like a river. As I began to do that, I began to hear the voice of trees, the language of the earth, and the language of God in all things. It was just mind blowing. And when I hear it , I just cry-because it’s so sweet. And it just speaks of oneness. It speaks of God, and it speaks of abandonment, and it speaks of love. White Bear was a pivotal person in my life. He opened the door for me to believe that all life is sacred and all life can speak in a spirit of God. And I owe him a great debt.”
The Journey Continues
The nine months in the hermitage “womb” birthed a new vision for Brian. It came in the form of a strong desire to go to the state of Washington and live alone in the wilderness there for a year, working out his survival skills and learning edible plants to prepare to return to Alaska. Once in Washington, however, he wondered why things weren’t working out for him on the Olympic Peninsula, so decided to go to the drier Cascades. After spending six or seven weeks in the Cascades wilderness, “God’s voice whispered in my heart that a change was coming,.” Brian said. He remembers thinking that was good because his current situation didn’t seem that great. “And the next night God said, ‘I’m going to bring a woman into your life.” Having not dated for the eight years since his first awakening, he said, “I was kind of shocked-and yet eager.”
He felt compelled to get out of the wilderness but didn’t know where he would go. Coming upon a man running a gas truck, he asked for directions to the highway. He then hitchhiked to Chelan, Washington, the gateway to a huge lake, 55-miles in length, that cuts through the deepest gorge in North America. “I walked around Chelan sniffing the air and saying, “God, is this where I’m supposed to be? And I didn’t feel yes, and I didn’t feel no.” Lacking confirmation that this was the right place, he prepared to leave. A van stopped, but instead of giving him a ride, it picked up another hitchhiker who had seemingly jumped out of nowhere. Being passed by seemed like God’s sign that Brian was already where he was supposed to be.
He stayed overnight in Chelan. and the next morning boarded the ferry to travel to the other end of the beautiful Fjord-like Lake Chelan. There lies a tiny village called Stehekin, accessible only by boat or float plane.
As he sat on the ferry, reading a book about edible plants, an older woman leaned over and said, “Are you going to Holden Village, young man?” He said, “No.” She said, “I think you ought to. The staff director is right on this boat, and I think you ought to go back and talk to him right now.”
Brian told me that he could hear God’s Spirit inside and knew that “God was on the move”-that doors were beginning to open. So he told the woman yes, he would go talk to the director, who did indeed invite him up to “a very wonderful place” unknown to him before then-Holden Village.
Holden Village was once a copper mining town and now operates as a year-round ecumenical retreat center. It is directed by a board composed of representatives from the major Lutheran bodies of the U.S. and Canada. Its official Web site states that “the Village welcomes all, regardless of denomination, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or age.” According to its mission statement, Holden Village “is organized to provide healing, renewal and refreshment of people through worship, intercession, study, hilarity, work, recreation and conversation in a climate of mutual acceptance under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”
Brian was thrilled with everything about the place-especially its spiritual emphasis and its utter remoteness. One of its vehicles had met the Holden-bound ferry passengers at the Steheken landing to transport them over the final 11 rugged miles. Holden Village makes its own electricity, but there are no telephones or television and no way of communicating through pagers, fax machines, or e-mail. (Its official Web site is an external, stand-alone arrangement to provide information.) It is a retreat center that provides both a time and a place which is set apart in the truest sense of the term.
Brian was placed in what he described as “the lowest volunteer position, which is working in the dining room, setting up tables.” In his second week there, as he walked through the dining room, he glanced over to his left. “My eyes fell upon Kathryn. And my spirit jumped. I knew that was her-the woman God was bringing into my life,” he said. “Then I saw her wedding ring, and I said, “Uh-oh. Something is wrong.”
At this point in the interview, Kathryn was ready to rejoin us. The baby had quieted down. “Lydia is in her favorite place,” Kathryn said softly, “asleep at the breast.”
I couldn’t help but think off Kathryn’s song, “Gather Me Under Thy Wings,” which she invited us to sing with her at the two EEWC conferences where she led the music. I remembered the part in which the song invites us to hear the voice of God saying:
I long to
mother you, comfort you, hold you.
Rest in My arms
and be loved.
Their Story Together: The Beginning
Kathryn had volunteered to work at Holden Village for three weeks that summer, arriving the week after Brian had stepped off the ferry and into his dining room responsibilities. ”
After meeting Brian and seeing his walk and his life and his spirit, I had a profound awakening again,” Kathryn said. “I really felt like my soul was opened up at a deeper level. Attending college at Oberlin and studying religion had sort of intellectualized my faith, and I had become cynical and lost my simple fire. After meeting Brian, it was rekindled to a much greater degree, and we were very connected at a soul level.” She paused. “I didn’t realize I was in lovewith him until later-after going back to school and really reflecting on it.” It would be the beginning of a long and painful struggle.
After Kathryn returned to school, Brian remained at Holden Village. Yet, “there was this incredible connection,” he said, “and we both fought it-and thought it was wrong; and yet the more we fought it, the stronger and stronger it became.” Where was God? he wondered. Then Brian did what he had done so many times before; he decided to seek answers in the wilderness. This time, he fled to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and stayed for two months.
The story thus far. In Part One ( printed in the Fall 2000 issue of EEWC Update), we followed Kathryn and Brian Christian through their very different life journeys until their paths converged at a remote retreat center in the Cascade Mountains of Central Washington.
Kathryn’s journey had included coping with family illness and her father’s tragic death in a plane crash, as well as developing her singing and songwriting talents and majoring in world religions in college. She had married a college classmate for what she considers “the wrong reasons” and then went on to theological seminary.
Brian’s journey took him to wilderness areas in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, and the mountains of Colorado. In the wilderness, he lived as a hermit and mystic, seeking and communing with God in the solitude of the vast outdoors for many months at a time.
When he met Kathryn at the Holden Village retreat center, he was sure she was the woman God had brought into his life to be his life partner. But there was a big problem, symbolized by the wedding ring she was wearing. Although they both inwardly struggled over their undeniable attraction to each other, the feelings did not go away but grew even stronger after Kathryn”s three weeks of volunteering at the retreat center ended and she returned to seminary in New Jersey. Brian continued working at Holden Village, all the while crying out to God to help him deal with the questions that had arisen over the unexpected love he and Kathryn were experiencing. Once again, he felt compelled to spend time alone with God in the wilderness, seeking answers.
Brian explained why he needed another wilderness experience to resolve his inner turbulence. “I had had eight years of experience with God, so a part of me was quite confident that God was going to work this out. And yet the passion was so strong.” He told me that if he had followed only that passion, he would have quickly moved to be near Kathryn. “But I waited and waited and stayed at Holden Village most of the year,” he said.
The two corresponded sporadically during that year after their meeting. “A couple of times we quit writing,” he said, “and then we would resume it.”
He continued: “It was so confusing to me to be so much in love with a married woman that I decided to go to the only place I knew where I could get clarity. I left Holden Village and fled to the bottom of the Grand Canyon where I stayed for the last two months of spring while Kathryn was completing school.”
What happened there? I wondered. “I wept and cried and fasted,” Brian said, “and found no relief for my spirit and no wisdom from God.” There, in the midst of one of the most spectacular wonders of God’s creation, there was no peace. “It was like creation had abandoned me, and God had abandoned me. And I was left in this black abyss, both spiritually and emotionally-the beginning of a dark night. And I knew it was coming. There was also this fear.”
What was he afraid of? There were two deep emotions battling within Brian’s soul: “this incredible love,” on the one hand, and on the other, “this fear of returning to civilization” if things did somehow work out for Kathryn and him to be together.
“I had become a wild animal by then, ” Brian explained. “I had learned how to survive off the land; I just had no ties to this world’s ways. I had no skills left to make money. I had nothing except the wilderness.”
He wondered why he couldn’t find some answers-some peace. “I was being called out of the wilderness and into a marriage, and I had fled to the Grand Canyon to find a word of guidance and source of strength. But I found none.”
Perplexed, he decided to leave the Grand Canyon after two months and started to hitchhike across the Navajo reservation there. As night fell, a Ford truck pulled up. Brian’s heart began to pound. He remembered hearing some stories about incidents of violence among the Navajo people.
“Get in!” a gruff voice ordered.
Fear and faith struggled together in Brian’s mind. “I thought, Either this guy is going to kill me, or he was sent by God.”
Brian hopped into the truck. Immediately, the Navajo driver began telling him a story about recovery from alcoholism. He looked over at Brian and said, “Do you know what faith is, son?” Brian replied, “I haven’t a clue.”
The truck driver provided his own definition: “Faith is when you get on your knees and pray and you don’t feel a thing, but you believe God is going to work.” He glanced over at Brian again. “You got that kind of faith?”
Brian told me he didn’t know what to say and ” just started mumbling around.” The driver and he continued in conversation. “He never really asked me many questions,” Brian recalled, “but right before I got out of his truck, he just looked at me and pointed his finger right into me and said, ‘You’ve got to have faith!'”
Brian watched the truck’s taillights disappear down the road. “There alone in the desert, underneath the stars and moon, I just wept,” he said. “And I knew that the road I was going to walk would take a lot of faith.”
Meanwhile, Kathryn was doing her own soul-searching. “I spent a year in discernment and agony,” she said, “because I can’t say I really believed in divorce-although I really felt God was inviting me to choose life for myself and inviting me out of my dysfunctional, not God-anointed relationship into one that was.”
When Brian returned from his pilgrimage to the Grand Canyon, he learned that Kathryn and her husband were divorcing. He said the news was “surprising and yet unsurprising at the same time.” Kathryn spent a time of transition at a retreat center. When they felt the time was right, Brian traveled to her home state of Michigan to be with her.
As they told me their story, Kathryn reminded me that, prior to that time, they had only ever seen each other for three weeks -that short period when she had volunteered at Holden Village.
Both she and Brian speak about the growth of their love with a sense of awe. “It all happened ten years ago,” Kathryn said.”and we’ve been together ever since.
It’s just the most amazing experience to be married to my soulmate and the love of my life-an incredible gift and blessing.”
Working at Marriage
They were married on January 12, 1992. “And then we began to work-work at marriage.” Brian said. It wasn’t easy after a life of solitary wilderness sojourns. “Of all the things I’ve done, I think that the struggle to a deeper abandonment of self and working through issues-and loving and forgiving-has been more difficult than any wilderness experience.” There was so much to learn-“like how to dialog and how to be interdependent and yet true to how God speaks to us as individuals.”
Brian went on to speak about the joy, love, and transformation (as well as the undeniably hard work involved) in the process of two becoming one flesh. “I think that anyone who has been married knows about the struggle of moving to a higher plane of communion and love,” he said.
Kathryn jumped back into the conversation at this point and referred to their wedding promises. “We vowed to love each other unconditionally, to seek God’s will together, and to share of ourselves, to be true to our own path and our own experience in the process of the journey.”
A New Name
As a symbol of their oneness and identity, they took a new surname at marriage, a name they had chosen to become their family name. From henceforth they would be Kathryn and Brian Christian.
“We wanted to be a new creation in Christ together, neither one of us bringing our old names,” Kathryn told me. At first, Brian’s family found this somewhat harder to accept than was true of her family. That was understandable, since in our society, Kathryn pointed out, “men traditionally don’t change their names.”
Spaces in Togetherness
Although the wedding publicly declared their becoming one, Brian and Kathryn also remained two-two individuals with separate gifts and callings. “Let there be spaces in your togetherness,” Kahlil Gibran had written in The Prophet, and the wisdom in such counsel was not hidden from the newlyweds.
Balancing independence and interdependence requires a genuine commitment to constantly seeking God’s will and the other’s good.
For a time, the two worked together in a ministry that Brian started, called “On Earth as in Heaven.” But he later dissolved it and decided to do missions as a private layperson rather than in the name of a formal organization.
The couple also realized something else. “We needed to separate our ministries,” Kathryn said. “There is so much togetherness, and our relationship is so intense that we needed that clear boundary for our marital health. So now he does his missions, mainly at Catholic retreat centers and churches, where he does missions of renewal, healing, and wilderness stuff. And I’m a church musician but also travel and do music on my own. So our ministries are totally separated.”
This separation of ministries is not a matter of each person’s claiming and protecting his or her own turf. Rather, it means that each partner lovingly grants the other freedom to develop particular interests and gifts, all the while lending encouragement.
Kathryn and Brian’s mutual interest in music provides an example. Brian, like Kathryn, plays the guitar. In fact, his guitar-playing provides beautiful accompaniment to Kathryn’s singing on her first CD, Ascension, which was released by Ave Maria Press in 1998.
However, Brian told me that he no longer plays music publicly. “It was getting in the way of spirituality for me,” he said, “So I’ve let go of music and only use it occasionally for private prayer. As close as Kathryn and I worked together, I felt I was letting my own need and desires get in the way of her musical gift. And just as she and I could not do ministry together, I knew that I could not be part of her music journey. So I’m just a gentle little voice and husband, and that’s very wonderful. I just want to be a good support to let her fly with her gifts. If she asks for my advice, I will say something. But I trust her gift of music and her love for music and her talent. So I just let go.”
I remarked that no matter how much we love someone, it’s so easy to let a desire for control to slip in and to think we know what is best for the partner. Traditional male socialization makes that especially a temptation for men.
Brian agreed and said that giving up his music ambitions was one of his “great stories of abandonment.” He went on: “I’m not overly gifted but I persevered; and then it became apparent to me that, in my perseverance, I was losing my own gifts and getting in the way of Kathryn’s gifts. And I laid it down.”
I then asked Kathryn if she hadn’t had to lay down a desire to have Brian with her all the time when there would be times that he would want to-need to, feel called to-go out in the wilderness alone or be gone for long periods holding retreats. “Is this a similar thing?” I wondered.
“Yes, it is,” Kathryn replied. “He just got back from Denver. It used to be much worse, but now that I’ve had some inner healing, it’s a lot easier to support him when he goes-easier than it used to be.” (I could hear them both chuckling over the two phones at this point, indicating that this had once been an issue-and one they had worked on together.)
One area where there is total sharing and delight is in the care of their baby daughter, Lydia Grace Christian, who will celebrate her first birthday in May.
On the liner notes accompanying her new cassette tape, Come, Holy Mother, Kathryn has written of the change and transformation that Lydia’s birth has brought to her life: “She has been teaching me about the boundless love of a mother for a child, and of God’s deep and motherly love for each of us.”
I asked her about how Lydia’s coming has changed her life.
“One thing it’s done for me is teach me my strength– my mother lion, my warrior woman spirit,” she answered. “Also, an awareness of the Spirit of Holy Sophia guiding me in making decisions-discernment for this child-has been awakened in me.” She said she had experienced a difficult labor, “I just pulled on strength I never knew I had. And then weeks and months of no sleep because of digestive distress that Lydia had. Frequently I’d feel I had nothing left, and then I’d find there was always something left-that God was there.”
Parenthood has been life changing for Brian, too. “Watching him as a father has been so wonderful!” Kathryn said.
Brian’s explanation? “It’s all grace. The two things that I feel really gifted from God are the wilderness and fatherhood. Fatherhood was a total shock to me because I never wanted children,” he confessed. “I was totally scared. I needed much time away with God and needed so much freedom in my lifestyle. God waited until I was 41. But when Lydia came there was such an explosion of joy!”
He said that through her birth he received a special baptism from God. “The night before she was born, God asked me, ‘Are you ready to abandon your life to parenthood?’ And I said yes.” Then, in the birthing center, “as soon as she came out, the Spirit of God just descended on me and said, ‘You are Dad.'”
Brian continued: “Suddenly it was like I just knew-because I’m not from an emotionally nurturing environment-just knew what to do! I absolutely love fatherhood. It has brought such joy and richness-and brought my life full circle. The fullness of a mystic’s joy is having a child.”
Mysticism and Music
Mystical experience-the experience of direct communication and union with God-is of great importance to both Brian and Kathryn and is foundational to their ministries.
Lyrics for Kathryn’s music seem to fall into three categories: direct quotation of Scripture passages, the writings of the great women mystics of the Christian tradition (such as Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, Hildegard of Bingen, Mechtild of Magdeburg, and Teresa of Avila), and words from Kathryn’s own experience with God in prayer. Examples of all of these musical expressions may be found on her two recordings: the 1998 compact disk,Ascension, mentioned earlier, and a cassette tape entitled Come, Holy Mother, released in 2000.
Come, Holy Mother (the title song is from the writings of Julian of Norwich) is part of a larger project which eventually will be issued as a CD. In its present form, it not only features Kathryn’s beautiful singing but is interspersed with the voice of Edwina Gateley reading her own poetry. (Readers will remember Edwina Gateley’s outstanding presentation at the 1996 EEWC Conference in Norfolk, VA). The poetry and music combine to present a picture of a believer’s struggling with faith during times of feeling abandoned by God. And then comes the voice of God, quieting the soul and lifting the spirit.
“Gather me Under Thy Wings” (on both recordings), the song Kathryn taught those of us who attended the 1998 and 2000 EEWC conferences, is an example of how her music links her everyday experiences and her prayerful meditation. This is the story she told me about its origin:
“One day I profoundly needed comforting by God, and I needed to be sung a lullaby like a mother and child. So I started strumming around with lullabies in three-quarter time, and then I was thinking of images of God as my Mother, caring for me. My theological training provided a wonderful concordance, so I looked up images of God as a bird, God with wings, covering me and carrying me. The images came out of my need. That’s typically how my music happens. It starts in my soul, my longing, or my love. And then the song is born. I have such a great love for women’s issues, women’s images, the feminine, that I often use what the women mystics have written, such as Catherine of Siena’s ‘Set Aside Every Fear and Trust’ which is on my latest release.”
I told Kathryn that if “Gather Me Under Thy Wings” was a lullaby from God, another of her songs received in prayer, “Remember I Love You,” could be considered a “love song” from God to her. She agreed. “I spent many years feeling ‘on the alert’ for tragedy, fearing someone I love would be taken away from me. One of my issues is to let go, abandon my life, and trust that God will care for me.” It is the experience of moving away from feelings of abandonment by God and deciding on abandonment to God and finding peace.
Brian makes the same point. “Being a ‘married monk,’ he said, “my real work is abandonment to God and being faithful to the call of my own transformation. The parish retreats that I lead weave together scripture, story, and reflective silence with themes of abandonment to God, answering the call of Jesus to ‘drop our nets and follow him,’ and moving with the Spirit. When I lead wilderness retreats, I hope participants will experience a sense of Oneness-that universal presence of God in all creation. I use creation and simple centering techniques to help facilitate this process, leading them to quiet places, teaching through the elements of fire, water, earth, and sky, and asking them to believe the creation will speak to them once they calm the inner self.”
When I marveled at the ways God had guided their lives, Brian said, “I think God gets a charge out of such leading. I think it make’s God’s day to do it. God is just looking for souls who will really let go, die to self, and just yearn for that pure voice of love-and dance the dance!
This article originally appeared in two parts in the Fall, 2000 and Winter, 2001 issues of EEWC Update.
For information on Kathryn’s and Bryan’s retreats and Kathryn’s recordings, write them at P.O. Box 72, Williamsburg, MI 49690, or visit Kathryn’s website. You can listen to Kathryn’s song, “Gather Me Under Thy Wings,” in the audio section of this EEWC-CFT website.
© 2000 Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus , EEWC Update, volume 24 numbers 3 ad 4, Fall, 2000 and Winter 2001.