(Available Light Records, 2014)
Reviewed by Deb Vaughn
I want to leave enough room in my heart
For the unexpected…
Carrie Newcomer, A Permeable Life: Poems and Essays
It’s like a sweet cup of a caramel macchiato. The silence of the first snowfall. A porch swing on a perfect spring day. A breeze carried from the surf across your beach blanket. These are the inviting images that came to me as I listened to Carrie Newcomer’s newest album, A Permeable Life. This is Newcomer’s twelfth album, and it will not disappoint those of us who enjoy her music.
Newcomer is known in the progressive spiritual community as someone who wants to live out her Quaker roots. She notes, “Our culture reasons that because we feel there is not enough time, we should increase our pace, multitask, and fit more into our already overbooked days. But perhaps the more effective response to the limits of time is to live more fully in the moment, to savor it and expand it out in all directions” (http://www.carrienewcomer.com/artist/). She engages this philosophy fully in her newest album.
Carrie’s style – warm, acoustic, honest, and real – invites the listener to explore with her how the eternal can permeate the ordinary in life. She calls us to join her in this conversational dance of hope, peace, joy, pain, and grace. In fact, Newcomer says, “We wanted the listener to feel very close as if in conversation with me. The vocals on this album were sung as if I were sitting at the kitchen table with the listener.”
She succeeded in this goal magnificently. A Permeable Life captures the fleeting seconds of overwhelming Mystery, thinning the veil between the finite human and the Infinite Presence.
Carrie’s rich alto floats across the melodies, accompanied by a fresh acoustic backdrop of guitar, keyboards, strings, and percussion. The album is mixed with clarity and not over-produced. Her vocals bring rich emotion to the lyrics, and Carrie spans the breadth of them easily. We hear the grieving heart in “An Empty Chair” and the humor behind “Please Don’t Put Me on Hold.”
There’s much to like on this album. Each track offers a vignette into the Holy’s invitation to us, to engage and respond with open hearts.
The opening track, “Every Little Bit of It,” begins the journey, inviting us to become aware of the beauty in the ordinary moments of life and to embrace them fully. “Abide” (with the lyrics co-written with theologian/author Parker J. Palmer) offers the opportunity to stop, rest, and be present with each other in those times of heartbreak and healing: Oh, Abide with me, where it’s breathless and it’s empty…
Carrie teaches us a lesson in gratefulness in her song borne out of her bedtime practice of naming three things that she is grateful for in “Thank You, Good Night.” In “Visitation,” she notes the powerful, painful process of remembering and releasing the memories of our past. “A Light in the Window” brings to mind that there is always Light shining in the darkest moments of our lives. And the sweet cello lines in “The Work of Our Hands” tells a parable of the Holy’s hands at work in the everyday tasks of living – in the kitchens, stores, roads, and hospitals – in the labors of cooks, clerks, road crews, and nurses.
Perhaps the song that brings the strongest challenge to those of us in the institutional Church is “Room at the Table.” Newcomer reminds us,
Let our hearts not be hardened
To those living on the margins,
There is room at the table for everyone.
Can we hear her invitation to bring in the burdened and undone? Can we welcome all gifts, all travelers, all seekers? If we are truly going to be the beloved community, we need to remember that the Grace of God makes “Room at the Table.”
In the real-life questions she sings about, Carrie Newcomer offers us a tender, timeless invitation – to Be Still and Know, to stop, reflect, and savor the moments that transcend this earthly experience, and to respond to the Holy’s Invitation to bring love and grace a little deeper into the lives around us.
Produced and engineered by Paul Mahern
Distributed by MRI/Sony RED Music © 2014
A companion book is also available: A Permeable Life: Poems and Essays
Visit Carrie Newcomer’s website.
© 2014 by EEWC-Christian Feminism Today