“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Somehow, it’s January 1 once again. We have made yet another trip around the sun. I’m not one for making public declarations of my resolutions (although I do need to step up my walking and watch my portions once again…) but today I return to a question that might lead to a good resolution for all of us to consider on this first day of a New Year: How do we begin each day?
The older I get, my biological clock seems to be replacing the digital one beside my bed. On most days I awake a few minutes before the mechanical one goes off. So waking up is not a problem. Especially when you consider the alternative! I used to joke that I rarely saw the sunrise (“You mean to tell me that there are TWO six o’clocks?”) but now on most days I’m up before the day is. The question is, HOW do we wake up?
Thanks to you all for reading and responding this past year. Here’s a little Christmas greeting for you that asks the important question: What is Christmas to you?
Christmas to Me
Christmas to me, isn’t the lights on the tree
The wrappings and the bows
A reindeer’s glowing nose.
Christmas to me, isn’t so easy to see
In endless games and toys
For little girls and boys.
And no matter where I go
All the trappings and the snow
It just isn’t merry
It just isn’t Christmas
Till I am home again with you.
Christmas to me, echoes the mystery
The sacred holy night
A grace so pure and bright.
Christmas to me, lives in the memory
Of family and friends
A love that never ends.
Words & music by Katie Cooper Nix, Phil Cooper, Steve Givens, and Jim Russell
©2007, Potter’s Mark Music
The MO Bottom Project
John Caravelli, guitar
Phil Cooper, piano
Pat Dillender, drums
Steve Givens, vocals
Gerry Kasper, bass
“Going nowhere…isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.” – Leonard Cohen
Last weekend, I helped lead an advent retreat at the Marianist Retreat & Conference Center just west of St. Louis. Whenever I return to this beautifully spiritual place, I feel like I am returning to “nowhere,” as Cohen writes above, to a place where I can step away for a while and see everything a bit more clearly. And I think I begin to hear more clearly and succinctly, too, as the noise of the city and everyday life melts away and I find myself surrounded more and more by silence.
In that silence, I have found, I can often “hear” what God is saying to me, can begin to discern more clearly what God perhaps has been saying all along when I was too busy to listen and life was just too loud. Sitting in the chapel late last Friday night, I began to think of this silence in terms of music, which is itself made up of both sound and quiet, of course. In the “music” of this all-to-hard-to-find silence, I began to feel myself drawn in the direction of the master composer and musician, the One who brings all to life, throws beauty over the world like a prayer shawl, and invites us all to “waste time with him” every once in a while. So I wrote this short poem:
The light in the chapel has been dimmed
the retreatants retreated to their rooms
the silence of night surrounding me and ringing in my ears
a present but somehow unheard concerto.
Quiet like the drawing of a bow across invisible strings within
a soundless song that yet angles me in your direction
points me toward your presence
floating in the room like a single bright yellow fan of a gingko leaf
dropping slowly and freely and yet
demanding my attention
asking for my consent and response
requiring my awe like a whispered sigh from my lips.
A song, yet not sung
as silence demands itself to be heard alone.
O you, who make the leaves fall noiselessly.
O you, who make the silence sing.
O you, who compose and give life
and demand we play it through to the orchestrated end.
Only you, O God.
Happy third Sunday of Advent to you. It’s a time to stand still and learn to be amazed. In the immortal words of E.B. White’s sage spider, Charlotte: “Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.” For it’s there.
I am happy to announce that my band — the Mo Bottom Project — has released our first CD, “Well Traveled Road,” a collection of 11 original songs that span some of our favorite musical genres from Americana/folk to bluesy old-time rock ‘n’ roll and are lyrically inspired by the history, landscape and stories of the Missouri River Valley near where we live and grew up. These are stories of out-of-luck farmers, young lovers, old men in even older houses, flooded roads, and the car cruisin’ culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s. (Though not specifically religious, we’d like to think these are songs of faith and redemption…)
If you’d like a copy of the CD, there are a couple of ways to do it. You can visit the band’s website — mobottomproject.com — and order a direct download from ITunes or CDBaby, or you can write to me at email@example.com and I’ll tell you how you can receive a good old-fashioned CD copy.
Thanks for reading…I’ll be back soon.
“The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.” - Galileo Galilei
I was up before dawn today and sitting on the screen porch as the world went from dark to light once again. It does this every day, or so I’m told, although I’m not always there to watch it. Or perhaps I’m up and about but not present enough to notice. This morning, I had scripture across my knee, a pen in my hand and a journal nearby, my favorite posture and attitude for taking in the world around me — silent words, quiet thoughts and the prayer of solitude.
I just finished one of the busiest few weeks of my professional life, orchestrating the logistics and planning behind the second presidential debate of this electoral season, a massive event at my university that attracted thousands of journalists of every ilk and angle and an estimated television viewership of some 60 million. I’m both exhausted and invigorated, honored to have been a part of it all (despite the content and tenor of the candidates, which I have no desire to get into here…) and glad that it’s in my rearview window.
“It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.”
- Mary Oliver
All too often, it seems, we take the world and our role in it all too casually. We wake with a yawn and stumble through our mornings, gulping coffee and rushing to work or elsewhere and paying little to no attention to what’s happening around us. But in fact, there is serious work afoot, always. And the world indeed is broken and in need of mending. There’s work for us to do and there’s a space in our very midst where God is already at work, if we will only sit still long enough to notice.
So I’m giving my notice today. Read the rest of The Creative Spirit: Giving Notice »
Friends and readers of my blog…
I am pleased to announce that my American roots music band, the Mo Bottom Project, will release our long-anticipated first CD this October. Titled “Well Traveled Road,” the collection is 11 original songs that span some of our favorite musical genres from Americana/folk to bluesy old-time rock ‘n’ roll and are lyrically inspired by the history, landscape and stories of the Missouri River Valley near where we live and grew up. These are stories of out-of-luck farmers, young lovers, old men in even older houses, flooded roads, and the car cruisin’ culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s. (Though not specifically religious, we’d like to think these are songs of faith and redemption…)
“Life is your art. An open, aware heart is your camera. A oneness with your world is your film.” – Ansel Adams
What the great nature photographer Ansel Adams knew and showed us in his haunting, elegant black and white photographs is that there is so much to be seen and experienced in the world if we only slow down and pay attention — not only to the image in front of us but to the light and shadows that surround, encompass and overlay what we see. Adams would hike miles, laden with his heavy equipment and supplies, to get to the perfect place at the perfect time of day. Then it became his job, to paraphrase the renowned words of the poet Mary Oliver, to “stand still and learn to be astonished.”
There’s lesson in that for us somewhere, surely.
- “Extraordinary Lives,” by Steve Givens and Phil Cooper
Gratitude, it seems to me, is the starting point for our lives of prayer, creativity and living well among others. But gratitude is easy to say and harder to live by because it’s hard work. Saying “thank you” to God and to others around us is the simplest thing to do and, yet, we so often forget to do it. Or don’t make time to do it. Or don’t make it a part of our daily experience.
Today I offer a short reflection, a brief, two-pronged approach to a life of gratitude, followed by a new song called “Extraordinary Lives,” composed with my friend and co-creator Phil Cooper. [The song will be on the forthcoming CD by the Mo Bottom Project, scheduled for release this summer. If you’d like to reserve a copy shoot me an email!]