One-on-One with Carrie Newcomer on Music, Justice, and Contemplative Spirituality

Carrie Newcomer

We recently talked with Carrie Newcomer about the intersection of music and justice, contemplative spirituality, and her new project with author Parker Palmer. Carrie is an award-winning songwriter, recording artist, performer, poet, author, activist, and podcast host. Her new CD and companion book of poems, Until Now, explores the process of unraveling and reweaving the threads of our lives and the possibility of transformation after crisis.

As a singer/songwriter, how has your music intersected with your heart for justice?

For me, art and music are an expression of the human condition. Compassionate stories of the human condition often touch on issues of justice, and art that is authentic and leaning into a growing edge has intrinsic political context. I write from my own experience of the world, but always with an eye and ear for where we connect, where my story is also a human story.

We experience love, loss, grief, and uncertainty. We rise up and gather our courage, we find delight in our lives and heal what feels un-healable. There is a spiritual thread that runs through my music, because there is a spiritual thread that runs through my life. If my songs did not express that, I would be censoring something essential about how I experience my life and the world around me.

I care deeply about social justice and have been an activist all my adult life, and so that thread expresses in my artistic works as well. I do write songs that are in direct response to a political/personal experience, like the song “Sanctuary.” But more often, the political context of my work is approached through the presentation of an honest human story.

What role can music play in our desire to make this world better and to address the big issues of our day?

Music and the arts create connection and remind us that we have a shared humanity. Most people do not usually respond with openness to being hit on the head with a political statement, and the doors to the heart close quickly.

But most people will leave their hearts open just a little longer for a well told human story. They might leave their hearts open a little longer for a song that invites them into a story in which they can see themselves. Art and beauty can connect across all kinds of boundaries.

In that moment of connection is an opportunity and responsibility. I approach that moment of open-heartedness with a great deal of respect and am honest and hopefully singing something that resonates as true. But I am also mindful that an open heart is a gift.

What is contemplative spirituality, and how can it feed our desire to be more like Jesus?

My personal experience with contemplative spirituality is engaging in a daily practice of balancing my inner and outer life. I go to the well, spend time in the silence, and encounter the sacred in the natural world. I bring that inner experience to my outer walk in the world. My understanding of the teaching of Jesus is that of revolutionary love and welcoming the stranger. Living into that kind of revolutionary love is grounded in my inner life, centered and sustained by that sacred connection.

You co-founded The Growing Edge project with Parker Palmer. What does “the growing edge” mean to you, and how can this type of knowledge benefit each of us as we go deeper into understanding ourselves and our role in making this world more just?

The title, “The Growing Edge,” was inspired by a quote by civil rights theologian/mystic Howard Thurman. Parker and I had done several creative collaborations in the past, and The Growing Edge was a continuation of that creative conversation.

We wanted to explore personal growth spiritually, vocationally, and politically. It is a topic we had been exploring together as friends and artists, and it felt like a good time to expand and bring others into the conversation.

Parker’s work and witness in the world have inspired me for many years, and having the opportunity to become friends and creative colleagues has been a life-changing experience. It has been great fun to explore The Growing Edge through retreats, online and live performances, and our podcast.


 

“Revolution the Day After”

from the cover of Newcomer’s latest book, “Until Now: New Poems”

Revolution is finding your horizon
And then walking toward it.
Knowing that you will be walking
For a very long while,
Or always.

Because the process of getting there,
Because bringing in a better world,
Will take more than your one lifetime.
And justice is as much orientation
As it is destination.
Revolution is traveling light,
Leaving what’s dead weight
By the side of the road.
Like vengeance
And stone-cold hatred
That expands and gets heavier,
Like slow-drying cement, In the chambers of your heart.

Revolution is holding close
All you love,
All you believe in,
All you hope for.

Everything that actually matters.
Because you’re going to get tired
and discouraged
and angry
and wander off course.

Excerpted from Until Now: New Poems by Carrie Newcomer. Copyright © 2021 Carrie Newcomer. Published by Available Light Publishing. Used by Permission.

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