New Music for Troubled Times by Carrie Newcomer: ‘Within us and between us there is everything we need.’

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There’s light in the night
From stars long gone
A half-formed thought becomes a song
We rise from our grief and go on
It happens all the time
There’s a lake you cannot see across
A way through the woods
That I thought I’d lost
Clearing out everything that it’s time to toss
It happens all the time.
It’s impossible.
Impossible.
Impossible—until it’s not.

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By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Longtime readers of our online magazine are familiar with Carrie Newcomer, the singer-songwriter who was dubbed the “Prairie Mystic” by a journalist from the Boston Globe. But, we haven’t heard from Carrie since the dawn of the Trump era—at least not with a full-scale album. Only those of you who have caught Carrie’s various tour dates (she keeps her online schedule here) have gotten wind of her fresh forms of encouragement in the 11 songs she now groups into the album, The Point of Arrival.

Heavily influenced by her ongoing collaboration with Parker Palmer, Carrie devotes the centerpiece of the cardboard cover for this new album to display the 9 words they so often use to summarize their collective message: “Within us and between us is everything we need.”

What do these 9 words mean?

Click on this photo of Carrie to visit her website.

Well, whole volumes of teaching flow from those words. If you want to understand much more about Carrie’s new album—read Palmer’s latest book On the Brink of EverythingThat’s also the title of the wonderful final song on Carrie’s new album. This duo’s teaching, writing and music weaves back and forth as they collaborate and address the world in various forms of media. In a very real way, Carrie is a co-author of Parker’s new book and he’s a co-creator of her new album. Together, they model creative community.

Get it? “Within us and between us is everything we need.” They are showing us the kind of spiritual community where wisdom flows in all directions drawing upon all of our talents.

The nine words also refer to Carrie’s firm footing in her Quaker tradition that all will be well in this deeply troubled world—if only each one of us remains firm in our compassionate commitment to community. We do that, her tradition teaches her, by discerning our vocation within a community of friends. Together, we help each other clarify our callings.

‘IT’S NOT JUST MY STORY—IT’S OUR STORY’

“In this album, I’m telling very human stories,” Carrie said in an interview this week. “In my songwriting, I’m never putting my personal journals to music. My songs aren’t my diary—I have my own journals for that. When I’m sharing a song, I’m sharing something that’s really our story, our human story. I hope listeners will meet my songs with a sense of recognition. It’s not just my story—it’s our story.”

Throughout her more than two dozen albums are many that represent collaborations of various kinds. She’s an activist in the sense that she’s always building new forms of cooperative vocation with her audiences.

“I’m always asking: In times like these, where do we find our grounding?” Carrie said. “I believe that even in the darkest times, we can be met by unexpected light, grace and hope. We can move through these times with honorable companions—always keeping an eye toward the miracles that can surprise us.

“I’ve been an activist all my adult life. But anger only gets you so far. And fear only gets you so far—then you burn out or you get immobilized. What we need to ask is: Were is my true compass? What’s true north? As we walk through troubled times together—whether they’re politically troubled times or our own personal troubled times—how do we keep walking with a strong center and a spiritual grounding?”

‘AN UNBALANCED PICTURE OF REALITY’

One of Carrie’s constant words of encouragement is telling the people she meets that life isn’t as bad as we may fear. She’s not a Pollyanna. She bases these encouraging words on her first-hand experience crisscrossing the continent week after week after week.

“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed right now, partly because of the way we consume information every hour of every day,” she said. “There’s this never-ending news cycle of salacious, scary stories that focus on the very worst that human beings can do in this world. It’s so easy to think that’s all there is in the world. But the gift I receive as a traveling musician, always moving across the country, is my first-hand experience with individuals and communities who are trying to make our world a better place.

“One of the biggest problems we face is that we’ve got this unbalanced picture of the reality in which we’re living. We think that things are the worst they can be everywhere we look. But that’s just not the case. Over and over again, I’ve seen real people out there with courage to step across all kinds of boundary lines they never expected to cross—and discovering true miracles on the other side! My music is an encouragement to see these other possibilities, to consider these other stories of hope.”

‘WRITING A BETTER STORY’

I’m writing a new ending
With a better storyline

Turn the page and leave the blanks
With a plot that’s less defined.
And though I won’t get back
A day of stolen time
I could go to bed at night
With a better storyline.
There are stories shaped like stones,
The ones our hearts have always known,
The ones we finally call our own,
Down where the spirit meets the bone.

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“On this album, there’s a song about choosing to write new stories that we will live by,” Carrie said. “We’ve all been told stories by people around us. We all tell stories. These stories shape our lives everyday.

“But, at a certain point, we need to stand up and decide the kinds of stories we’re going to choose to tell ourselves—and that we’re going to share in our communities. We have to recognize that some old stories aren’t good for us—perhaps they are stories that keep us in a place of helplessness and fear. That song on my album is about assessing: Which stories can we tell that are life giving and sustaining? This can be a very personal question—and it can be a question we consider as a community.

“In this new album, there are a couple of songs that are about the grief we feel—certainly many of us are feeling grief in these troubled times. That’s just a natural part of the human experience—and it’s always been that way. Grief is a part of life. I think one of the most unhelpful things we like to tell ourselves as Christians is: We’re always supposed to be joyous. The problem with that is, when we don’t feel joyous—and sometimes we don’t—then we feel there’s something wrong with us, something wrong with God. I think it’s a real disservice to other Christians to keep insisting that we’re supposed to be joyous all the time.

“There are moments of sadness, moments of anger, moments of fear—and as we live through those troubled times—there also will be moments of awe and wonder and joy. I absolutely believe in miracles. I’ve seen so many miracles happen, but you know what? Sometimes miracles happen in an instant. One day there’s snow that chills your bones—and the next morning there are crocuses blooming! But most miracles? Most miracles take a long time and a whole lot of work. Yup, there are hard parts in that long journey toward seeing some miracles.

“What I hope people will hear in this new album is that, if we find our grounding, then there is real hope in the world. I want people to realize that we’re standing together, looking toward that horizon line—and the miracle of it is that we’re really standing on the brink of everything.”

I can’t see past this horizon,
I can’t say what’s waiting there.
I never sang ’cause I knew something,
I sang because it was a prayer,
The finest one that I could bare. …
And I won’t need no choir of angels,
Just that old song we used to sing.
But for now we’ll stand in wonder,
Here on the Brink of Everything.
Here on the Brink of Everything.

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  1. Thank you for this encouraging post about Carries’ new album in collaboration with Parker Palmer.

    The stories we live by shape our world. Finding the words for that story can help us to better live the story we want to create. As Carrie suggests, embodying that story is a communal effort. Carrie says that the type of stories we tell ourselves and share with others is a decision we make–an act of conscious will. It’s important to notice cause-effect relationships between which stories help us create the world we want to live in and which don’t. Nurturing greater awareness of the story we’re living out is an important part of learning how to change a story’s arc in order to develop the one we want to live inside.