Carolyn Arends "The Hard & The Holy" | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: Hello, I’m Karen Pascal. I’m the Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society. Welcome to a new episode of Henry Nouwen: Now and Then. Our goal at the Henri Nouwen Society is to extend the rich, spiritual legacy of Henri Nouwen to audiences around the world. We invite you to share these podcasts with your friends and family. Because we’re new to the world of podcasts taking time to give us a review or a thumbs up will mean a great deal to us and will help us extend our reach to more people. This week, singer-songwriter Carolyn Arends is my guest. Carolyn has released 14 albums and is the author of three critically acclaimed books. Fifteen of Carolyn’s songs have become top 10 radio singles on the Canadian pop charts and in the U S Christian charts. Arends has earned two Dove awards, three Juno nominations, and was recognized as the West Coast Music awards Songwriter of the year.
In addition to her busy touring schedule, Carolyn has been a regular columnist for Christianity Today, Faith Today and CT women. She’s also served as an adjunct professor at a number of universities. Currently, Carolyn is the Director of Education for Renovare ,a far-reaching organization that encourages and nurtures spiritual renewal. In this capacity a few years ago, Carolyn reached out to us at the Henri Nouwen Society and said that Renovare wanted to do a book study for their worldwide community, using one of HenrI Nouwen’s books. Carolyn let’s start there. Which one of Henri’s books did you choose?
Carolyn Arends: Well, I will tell you in one second, but first let me say thank you so much for that introduction and for having me on the podcast. I’ve been listening to it and enjoying it so much. And I’ve just been so looking forward to this conversation. But to answer your question, we could have chosen many, many of Henri’s books for our book club, but we went with the wonderful Life of the Beloved.
Karen: Now that has got to be my favorite book. It really is. And when I give the first book to somebody, I get that one, I love it. How was the book received?
Carolyn: Oh, it was received just like you would expect, just like an oasis in the desert. People loved it so much. We had Deirdre LaNoue help guide us through the book. Wonderful friend of the Society, I know. And you know in our work at Renovare, one of the things we try to encourage people is that they can be intentional in their life with God, that there are these kinds of spiritual practices and rhythms available to us that we can use to open ourselves up to the flow of God’s life and love and his desire to transform us, to heal us, to make us holy. But what we’ve learned is that, if we don’t start with a picture of God that hints at how good and beautiful and loving he is and a picture of ourselves, or a core identity of ourselves, as his beloved — if we don’t start there, then any sort of effort towards spiritual formation goes horribly awry. You know, William Temple said if a person’s picture of God is off, then the more religious they become, the worse it gets. And so we always have to start with that core identity as the beloved of God. That there’s absolutely nothing we can do to earn that or change that and that anything we do in our life with God flows out of that, rather than striving to earn God’s love. And so that’s always kind of our mission to help the people we serve and help ourselves continue to bake that into our core identity. And there’s just nobody better than Henri. And that book Life of the Beloved is just sort of the absolute top manual or guide or help. Baking that in our identity as the beloved is just so, so helpful.
Karen: Can I ask you from your experience, have the writings and teachings of Henri Nouwen impacted your spiritual journey before you did this study? Tell me a little bit about what you’ve been reading and, and how it impacted you.
Carolyn: You know, Henri has felt like a friend. I never met him in person. I envied that you did. But he has felt like a friend and a mentor and a kind of spiritual director for years and years in my own life with God. And I was trying to remember where it started and then it made me smile to realize that a long time ago, way before I worked for Renovare, I had come across a Renovare resource called Devotional Classics. And it was in that resource that I first met Henri, I think. That resource– it’s a collection of just excerpts from great devotional writing from throughout the centuries, really from 2000 years. And it includes an excerpt from Henri from his book, Making All Things New and it’s an excerpt on solitude. And I think it was, you know, I’d sort of come out of an evangelical kind of upbringing and hadn’t heard much about the contemplative life with God, about the invitations of solitude and silence. I came from a pretty wordy kind of way of being with God.
That excerpt kind of stopped me in my tracks. And there’s a little section in that from Making All Things New, where he talks about our spiritual deafness and moving from deafness to a more listening, receptive kind of way of going through life and being open to God. And he does this cool thing where he links our word for deaf comes from a Latin word that also gives us the word absurd. And our word for listening comes from a Latin word that also gives us the word for obedience. So he does this movement that by cultivating a listening life we moved from an absurd life, a chaotic life where nothing coheres, and we can’t find any meaning to this kind of resonant, obedient flourishing life. And that hit me so hard. And I realized, you know, you mentioned I’ve done 14 albums and the first one was called I Can Hear You. And it was all about learning to listen and detect God kinda clearing his throat in the stuff that goes on around us all the way to my most recent one is called Recognition. And it’s about recognizing when God is moving and speaking. And Henri has helped me so much with that. So that’s where it started with Henri and me. And then I think the first full-length book I read of his was The Genesee Diary. And I remember just kind of being astonished at his honesty and his candor in that book. And just his willingness to talk about his own struggle, his own need for affirmation that really mapped onto my journey so much. And I have to say in a way Henri’s life almost felt like a rebuke to me in some way.
And let me try to unpack that a little bit. This brilliant man who ends up working in a community with disabled folks – that trajectory bothered me when I first heard about it. And we’re always saying now that I work at Renovare, now pay attention to your resistances, whatever sort of bugs you, there’s an invitation there, there’s something for you to learn there. And I realized he was called to that community for many beautiful reasons, but also for this rejection of the false self, for this intentionality to move into a community that would have no interest in affirming him in all the measures where he would normally be affirmed. Man, that’s powerful. I have come back and back to that. And it has been sort of like a burr in my saddle and a light for my path, you know, it’s amazing. So that’s part of my journey with my friendship, with this Henri who I never met. And then of course The Life of the Beloved has meant so much to me and my community. And then another book I’ve found so helpful is his book on leadership, In the Name of Jesus. And again, his kind of his rejection or his invitation to say no to the temptation, to the need to be relevant or spectacular or powerful, just so, so helpful.
Karen: I can imagine for it is almost the antithesis, isn’t it, for a performer. You want to be liked, you want to be applauded. I mean you stretch yourself out and there’s such daring in offering up a new song, there’s such daring in offering up an article or a book, and you want somebody to give you the big A+ on it. And I agree Henri has undone a lot of us in that whole area because it is so close to the bone. It’s so close to the issues of the heart, where in a way he takes us back to knowing that if we don’t know we’re beloved, we will just be performing, jumping through hoops, trying to impress. And ultimately the one that isn’t impressed is ourselves, because we don’t believe it. So going back and finding that solid sense, God sees me as lovable and loves me well.
And Henri brought that gift to so many. I’m delighted, I’m just delighted as I discover your work. It’s funny because you remind me of Henri. I was really struck by the fact that the Henri that I know processed everything through his pen – good, bad, or wonderful. You know, he would write about it, he’d think about it, but his pen became the tool where he was kind of working his way through what he was dealing with. And I see that in you. I mean who produces 14 albums and all these wonderful articles and book! You’re obviously processing a lot because there’s the other thing that I see is that it’s full of honesty. That reminds me of Henri as well. So kudos to you, bravo what you’re doing. I’m loving it.
I have to admit in the last week or so I’ve been immersing myself in your music because I wanted to sort of listen freshly to this voice that I first heard 20 years ago, 20 – 25 . I’m not quite sure when you came on the scene, but I know that we were all so impressed and I wanted to hear what you were doing now. And what I found is that you have this incredible gift of nurturing the spirit. You’re speaking to people’s spirits. And oh my goodness, some of the things are just focusing on what you’ve brought in the last couple of years during the pandemic, the kind of work you’ve brought forward. It’s real food for hearts that have been tested and changed and challenged and hurt. Let’s talk a little bit about this. Tell me about what you have been creating in these last couple of years. I mean, clearly people got cut off, had to stay home. What did you do with your at-home time?
Carolyn: Well, first let me go back to something you said a minute ago, you were absolutely right. That I process the world by writing either columns or articles or songs. I always commend journaling to everyone else, but I’m terrible at journaling. I can do it if it’s a writing assignment or a song writing assignment. And if that makes me a little bit like Henri that’s wonderful. It’s definitely – writing is a sort of a form of prayer. And I think too, I grew up incredibly shy and writing was sort of how I got in touch with my own voice. So I’m grateful for that, but yes, in this pandemic time I did get kind of seized by a creative way for which I’m very grateful.
I started working at Renovare six years ago so up until the time I took the job at Renovare I had released 12 albums. And then in that whole time at Renovare, I just have loved, loved, loved, and continued to love my work there, continue to use music there, like a language that I speak. Well it is, it is. I only speak the two languages, unfortunately just English and music. I wish I spoke some other languages. But you know, I didn’t really feel a drive to do more recordings or write a bunch more music .But when COVID hit- so, I still had my work at Renovare, but it all went virtual like so many of us have learned to do over the last couple of years, but I had a little bit more margin because there was so much less travel.
And then I think the sort of presenting a cause when, when this creative wave came up to writing a bunch more new music was actually here in Canada, the gospel music association here, they were doing a little award show and they were taking a song from my very first album, a song called Seize the Day and putting it in their Songwriter Hall of Fame, which was really nice. And it was right at the beginning of the pandemic so the show was going to be live and then had to tape it, you know, quickly adapt and make it a Zoom show. And so I had this opportunity to give a little acceptance speech with this song going into the Hall of Fame. And I became suddenly aware that I was talking to all these artists, musicians who really were facing something quite terrifying.
You know, most of them unlike me, don’t have another job and rely on touring to feed their families. And so I was aware that this was very serious for them to suddenly be grounded. And it brought to mind sort of the Old Testament passages about exile. What do you do when you find yourself an exile? And COVID seemed to me to be a kind of exile. And so I started thinking about in Jeremiah 29, when God, through the prophet is giving some coaching about what you should do when you’re an exile. And he says, well, when you’re an exile you build houses, you plant gardens and you seek the welfare of the city. And so I was saying to these musicians that I knew that were on the Zoom call, okay, this is your time to plant gardens and seek the welfare of the city.
And what does it look like for a songwriter, for a musician, for any kind of artist to plant a garden? Well it probably means creating, growing some things, or at least tending to the earth, you know doing the kinds of things that cultivate growth. And so I give this, you know, I felt like it was quite a stirring little charge on the Zoom call. And then I hung up and I thought, well, what about you Arends you haven’t been growing much, what’s your deal? And so I had a little conversation with the Lord about that. And okay, well, I’m open if you want to plant anything. I don’t seem to have a ton of control over when a sort of a creative wave comes. And for a few weeks not much was happening. But the first thing I noticed was that I was starting to really fall in love with music again. I was starting to listen to other people’s music, different passages of music, and could feel this fire warming up in my heart of like, oh, this music is the best. Listen to that. Listen to that bass line, listen to what’s happening here. Something started to kind of thaw out and kindle and warm up. And then before I knew it, I was plunged into this season of deep creativity. And it’s really the mercy of God that I don’t get the seasons very often because I become completely useless as a functional human being. My family knows, okay, we’re not going to get dinner made for a few weeks now. But yeah, songs just started coming sort of as fast as they could come. And you know, the end of the story is I ended up recording, not one, but two new projects during COVID. It ended up being a very sort of alive creative time for which I’m very grateful and acknowledge that for many people COVID has been just a miserable time. So I don’t mean to minimize that, but I’m certainly grateful that I experienced this creative wave.
Karen: Well, I’m so grateful. Like the Recognition album, for example, it has some pieces in it like Everyone Sits by Their Own Pool of Tears. I mean, you actually undid me with that particular song. And I love the lines that are on the cover of the album: “ I thought you were mostly incognito. I could not have been more wrong. The whole universe is your cathedral and every heartbeat is your song”. The Pool of Tears one it just pulls us to compassion. I was very moved by that. And then I had read the story, It’s My Honor to Cry for You. I’d read the little story that you’ve written about that, but that song simply undid me to be quite honest. And I know for yourself, you’ve had to address grief. You’ve had to go there. Probably some of the Henri’s strongest writings come from his addressing grief. Would you be willing to share just a little bit what you discovered? Because I found it was really interesting what you had been stepping away from, but then had to step into.
Carolyn: Yeah, thank you for asking about that. So that was probably the other part of me not writing for a few years; was the loss of my mom in – we’re almost coming up on the three-year anniversary of that October 22nd, 2018. And my mom really was my best friend and I know not everyone gets that. So I’m very grateful for that, but we were very, very close. And I knew that to lose her would be hard, but I underestimated sort of how seismic it would be for me. And really did not know how to grieve well. I had lost my dad and that was very hard, but for whatever reason this time this loss hit me in a way that I didn’t really know how to process or respond to. And I kept doing this thing where I would think, well, losing your mom is sad, but she was getting older and she had a lot of health issues so it wasn’t tragic. I mean, I have friends who’ve lost kids and lost people out of season. And so I kept thinking compared to them I don’t have a right to be as undone by this as I am which is not a very helpful way of thinking about it. So I kept running away, running away from my grief and it was really doing damage to my soul. And then a couple things happened. One was, I finally went to a grief counselor, woman named Penny, and she said, okay, first of all, this sliding scale grief thing – that’s not doing you any good. You don’t have to do this. You don’t compare your grief to anybody else’s, your grief is your grief and you have to walk through it.
And so she actually gave me an assignment: to take 30 minutes a day specifically for grieving, which was about the most horrible thing I could think of. But she thought if I would create some space for it and allow myself to grieve, it would help me. And as it turns out, it really did. And then the second thing that happened was I got asked to go sing at a funeral for another mother, the wife of a drummer friend of mine who had died quite suddenly. And at the funeral, her son, Jordan got up to give the eulogy; a young adult, very bravely got up to give the eulogy. And he said, okay, everybody, if you’re wondering if Jordy is going to cry, of course I’m going to cry. It is my honor to cry for her. With that one line he completely reframed my grief for me and made me realize this is part of how I love my mom. You know she lives still, she lives on the other side, but this is part of how I love my mum. This is hard and holy work. This is part of how I honor my parents in my particular case. And I think it was Thomas Lynch who said, grief is the tax we pay on loving, but it’s also the invitation to continue to love well, even after the separation of death. And there it is part of, you know, I think back to Henri, he was always inviting us to become fully human and grief is the absolute ultimate training ground for becoming fully human. And so it’s been slow. I still have a tendency to run away from things that feel like they might swallow me up, but I’m learning that part of becoming fully human is learning to grieve well; that it’s hard and holy work. And, that it’s a kind of emblem or sacrament of the love that my mom and I have between us. So that’s where that song comes from.
And then if I can tell you about where the song Pool of Tears comes from. So To Cry for You is very much about my own personal grief journey. And then Pool of Tears tells the story of a variety of people who are sitting next to their own pool of tears. And one of the things I get to do at Renovare is oversee something called the Renovare Institute which is a two-year deep dive into spiritual formation. And we use Henri’s writings in that program quite a bit. They’re a huge gift to us there.
And one of our faculty members is a guy named Trevor Hudson and he lives in South Africa. He has a wonderful South African accent and he actually – this is an aside, but an important one – at the Institute we meet for these week-long residencies at retreat centers and he’s an important teacher at those. And when we’re working with this question, we work with three big questions in the first course. And they’re, What is my picture of God? What is my picture of the gospel? and, What is my picture of myself? And when Trevor’s helping us teach What is my picture of myself? he reads that portion from Life of the Beloved where Henri is asked to bless one of the residents where he’s living , Janet. And then everybody ends up coming up for a blessing and Trevor reads that story. And then he offers a blessing over our students. And it’s always, you know, 45 very accomplished people who’ve come to learn more. And they’re always just a mushy sobbing mess by the end of that blessing. So Henri continues to bless us in the Institute. But Trevor, this faculty member, tells a story that he did an internship in Washington, DC when he was training to become a Methodist minister. And he loved the pastor that he was training with. And when he left to fly back to South Africa, he said to this pastor, I just love the way you minister to people. Do you have a word for me? He had this idea from the early desert dwellers of that. You could go to a spiritual mentor and you could say, do you have a word for me? So he said to this pastor, do you have a word for me?
And the pastor said, “Yes, Trevor, never forget that every single person you meet sits next to his or her own pool of tears. And that was very early in Trevor’s development as a pastor. And it’s completely shaped,- this is why I want you to get to know him – because it’s completely shaped this empathetic, deeply, deeply compassionate presence that he is in the world. So in his honor, I wrote this song Pool of Tears just helping us remember that every person we run into, including that person who’s acting in a way we don’t understand and might make us feel initially angry. That person is sitting next to his or her own pool of tears.
Karen: I love it. There’s another song on that album that I just love, After This. I think it’s my favorite and it’s really about the now moment we’re living through and you’ve captured it so beautifully: “We’ve never in our lifetime known a shadow like this one, still however long, this nighttime rest assured the dawn will come, after this the sun will be shining. And all we miss will come to us in a whole new light and may we never waste the gift of a warm embrace.” It’s lovely. The song is rich with the lessons you’ve learned or you’ve captured, I’d love to hear from you what this time has taught you, Carolyn.
Carolyn: Well, thank you. Yes. You know, that song was sort of the initial creative way in this COVID time. I have a duo partner named Spencer Capier who plays sorta anything with strings: violin, mandolin, all different kinds of mandolin and guitar, bouzouki,- amazing guy – we’d been working together for years and years. And before I had written anything in this COVID time, he let me hear this little violin melody he’d written, this fiddle tune. And he had called it After This. And it was kind of his way of processing. And you were talking about me processing with a pen. He was processing with his violin the experience of COVID and it was just beautiful. And so of course I said, “Hey, can I try to put some words to this and kind of turn it into a lyrics and music song”?
And he said, yeah, go for it. So I did and, yes my desire was to say, “You know, number one, we’re going to get through this, but number two, let’s pay attention to what we really miss in this season. And let’s let it cultivate kind of a holy longing and reverence in us for things we have taken for granted, like being able to just hug somebody when you run into them on the street. Or eat together with people who aren’t in your bubble.” And, all that stuff. I think we’ve learned how sacred human touch is and seemingly incidental human connection is and my goodness, singing together. And something like church where before I might’ve, I confess in the spirit of The Genesee Diary, I confess sometimes would not always enter into say, corporate worship in a church service the way I should.
I mean, the first time we had a full worship service again in our church which was in the summer for about that week when we were allowed to relax. Remember there was about a week where we could have our masks off and be together. I wept, I just wept and wept and wept at the gift of standing with a group of people and singing worship together in a way that I would not have understood the value of before. So I wanted to say with that song both of those things, there will be an after this, this too shall pass. You know there’s something on the other side of this, but also let’s really notice what we’re missing and what we’re longing for. And learn and learn to reverence it in a way where we won’t be so careless with it in the future. That’s at least what I have needed to tell myself through this season. And hopefully a bit of that came out in the song.
Karen: I love the song. It’s interesting for us to realize that we are sharing a moment with the whole world. Sometimes, maybe living through the last few years of a lot of discord, we were maybe sharing it through the Western world or through North America or the United States. But this is a moment we’ve shared with the world. And I do hope it will make us more profoundly compassionate, our humanness really.
Carolyn: You know, I love that. And I love – you recently on the podcast, you ran a talk from Henri from sometime in the eighties. About fear. And he really struck me when he started talking about that, to be connected to the heart of God’s love is to be connected to every human being globally. And he kept using this word solidarity. And you were so wise to pick that talk and run it now, because if we’re not awake to our solidarity now, well, the whole world goes through the same thing we’re never going to wake up to it. So I think that’s one of the divine imputations in this time. You’ve really diagnosed that well, that there’s this invitation to realize, yeah, we are all human in this together, and there should be such deep solidarity. So thank you for that.
Karen: Well, I treasure the album and I will be giving it as a gift to others because it’s music that just goes right into the heart. Now, the other album, I also enjoyed the one that came out of this time, In the Morning. Oh my goodness. What a call to worship. And yet it’s not, to me, it’s not a call for out there. I feel like it’s so personal. I feel like in this one there were songs in this that just pull me forward into the presence of God, just personally. I loved it. And it made me want to know, how do you use music like this, do you have a quiet time? What works for you?
Carolyn: Yes. Well, so the second album that you’ve mentioned, In the Morning. So the Recognition album that we were just talking about is all new original songs that mostly came out of this season. And then on In the Morning, there’s actually only one original song on that album and the rest are we call it our acoustic worship project. And basically, I’ve already mentioned my duo partner Spencer, so we quite often find ourselves in a position where we’re invited to help people open up their hearts to God through music and worship but it’s usually in a very low key way. So it might be at a Renovare Institute residency, where there’s about 50 of us. And so it’s an acoustic guitar, maybe a mandolin or a violin. And there’s absolutely a place for big energetic bombastic kind of singing together, but that’s not what we tend to do. We tend to do this sort of, quiet – you know I love the work that Taize is doing just the way that music can be. It can just be a bit of a can opener in a great way, when we’re feeling closed off or when our brains aren’t engaging the way we want. Music has this way of kind of slipping in the back door, cracking open little, little openings. And before we know it, we’re open to God’s love in a way that we didn’t even know we were getting into. So I love the way that music can do so many different things and I’m grateful for all the different things that it can do. But for me, a particularly gentle music, when it comes to worship, simple music that you can sort of sink into can be a real huge gift.
So your question about whether I use music in my own devotional practice is an interesting one, because I think a lot of what I’ve been learning is to mostly be quiet and listen in my own devotional practice, which is been a huge journey for me. Learning to be silent with the Lord and not need to have some major spiritual breakthrough. This has been a big challenge of my life, learning to just hang out with God. You know, sometimes people will use that phrase, ‘waste time with God’, and I still have resistance to that phrase. Back from learning from your resistances, I always want to be accomplishing something. So I’ve mostly been learning to be silent with God. So I haven’t used music a ton in my time with God but often an encounter with music will help lead me into that silence or the silence will produce music in interesting ways. So there’s definitely a place for music and in that dance we do with the divine, for sure.
Karen: It’s a lovely album. Even as we’re talking we’re going to give links to everyone, to your website, into these beautiful albums and I would encourage people to listen and find the things that will feed your spirits. There’s wonderful work that you’ve done. And I know it’s fed me, so that’s what I pass on with thanks. I want to ask you a question because I see in the work that you’ve been doing, that you’re often helping others who are songwriters and creators, sewing yourself into other people’s lives. You’ve learned a lot in being able to pass it on as a wonderful gift. I’m just curious, you know, a question that comes to mind about the creatives that you’re feeding. Why do we need them? And are they in fact, the ‘canary in the coal mine’ at this point? Tell me about that important role of the creative, whether it’s the musician or the artists, what do you see?
Carolyn: I want to think thoughtfully about what you’ve asked, because it’s such an important question. The first thing I would actually say is that every human being is creative. You know, you run into people that work in accounting or a maybe very left-brain jobs. And they say, oh, I’m not creative. And it’s not true. I think the first five words of the Bible are, “In the beginning, God created”. It’s like, this is the very first thing the biblical writers want us to know about the character of God is that he’s creative. And then they say, and guess what, you’re made in his image. You, you bear his image. So every human being is creative. And there’s a guy named Gary Mullinder, who says, if you look at God’s creativity, the way it’s described at the beginning of Genesis, God looks out and he sees a void and he fills that void with something of himself.
And so every time we notice a void and we fill that void with something of ourselves, we are exercising the image of God in us, or affirming the image of God in us, working out of that image and being creative. And so there can be a void that there’s no dinner on the dinner table and you fill that void with something edible that is a highly creative act, or there’s a void at your business and you take something of yourself and the way you see the world and you fill that void with an excellent business plan that’s highly creative. So that’s the first thing I want to say, is everybody’s creative and everybody’s called to live into that creativity. But then I would also say some folks are artists. They have specific vocations in film or music or dance or visual art or drama or writing, whatever it is. And that’s one of the ways they’re specifically called to fill the void. And yes, we need those folks. They are so important to us in our journey of becoming human. And we could look at a million different ways that they’re important. But a couple I would say is, one is this thing we’ve been talking about. They help us listen. They help us see these glimmers of God’s movement in the world. I think it was Frederick Buechner, who said, “God speaks into and out of the thick of our days”, or Malcolm Muggeridge said, “every happening, greater small is a parable whereby God speaks to us. And the art of life is to get the message.” Well, I think artists help us. They help us learn to listen. They go, hey, look at this, check this out, look at this, look at this, the way the world is cohering or the, this meaning, or this little glimmer of beauty here.
And even if they don’t mean to, I think they point us towards transcendence, even if they have no clue that that’s what’s going on. I think they point us to, in a real sense – beauty will save the world in that if we pull on the thread of beauty, I think it will always bring us back to the creator. So they help us look and listen – artists. And then I think they also help us keep hope alive in that they help us have imagination to be able to conceive of new futures of new ways of living and being together in the world other than the ones that we have now. And conversely, you use that phrase ‘canaries in the coal mine’ they also help us know. Artists seem to be some of the first people to be able to detect when there is something toxic going on in the culture that is stifling out the human spirit that is working against the flourishing of human beings. And so even very dark work has that sort of prophetic, ‘look out people’, kind of role. So I don’t know, you’ve pushed a button that I could go on for a long time about. But yes we need art in the world and we need every single person listening to this conversation to know that they’re creative and that they’re invited to fill the little voids that they notice with something of themselves as they co-create with God.
Karen: As you’re listening, I know you’re going to want to connect more with Carolyn – who wouldn’t? I mean, this is just so rich. I’m so grateful for it. I think maybe to kind of understand how to connect, it would also be good to hear just a little bit more about Renovare. I’d like people to know what Renovare is offering and then just sort of figure out some of the key things that are there. I think it’s something I’ve always heard spoken of with such respect. Renovare is one of those, almost like a plumb line for good things, for truth, I would say. And not to say it’s got all the answers, but I certainly have heard nothing but good things about Renovare. Tell us just a little bit about the work that’s happening there and how people might enter into it, how they could participate in some way.
Carolyn: Thanks for asking about that. I would love to invite people to connect. Renovare was founded more than 30 years ago now by Richard Foster. Richard Foster wrote Celebration of Discipline and Streams of Living Water, beautiful book on prayer -many, many great books that have been huge, huge helps to me in my life with God. A lot of them about what we can learn from every century of the church, not just the last couple hundred years but from every century of the church, about what a flourishing life with God can look like. And then another author named Dallas Willard got really involved in a whole little sort of band of brothers and sisters, started doing this work together to invite people into a spiritual formation journey where we’re just invited to be intentional in our life with God.
And I got to start working with them. Now I work with Renovare in the U.S. and I started about six years ago. There’s also an expression in Canada that I invite people to check out as well. And we’re really excited about what they’re doing. But my work with Renovare in the U.S. – I work as director of education. So the things that I get to oversee are -you already mentioned the Renovare book club, which is an online community that also has little in-person groups that meet together. It runs from fall to spring every year. We’re just getting going this year and people can join at any time. So I really encourage them to check it out. We go through four great books every season in kind of a guided experience together. So that’s a great way to start to get to know Renovare. We have a weekly digest that’s free that people can sign up for. We record lots of podcasts. And then about once a month, I get to host webinars with lots of really interesting and helpful people. We have a new community initiative called the Fellowship of the Burning Heart. That’s just getting off the ground, which is these little lay communities of people who want to really invest in each other’s lives together around kind of a shared rule of life. And then I’ve already mentioned the Renovare Institute. That’s a two-year deep dive into formation that I have the privilege of overseeing with a great team of people. And that always starts August 1st, each year. Each cohort is kind of attached to a new city in the U.S. but you don’t have to be from that city. People come from all over the world. And the deadline to apply for that is, I think it’s February 1st of each year. I’m probably forgetting lots of other things. I could talk forever about Renovare, but if people want to check it out, just come to renovare.org, look for the place on the homepage to sign up for the newsletter and just start poking around and see what shimmers for you and what you seem to be invited into. And then I believe Renovare Canada – I think it’s renovarecanada.ca. I hope that’s right. It’s either renovarecanada.ca or .com and people should check out that work as well for sure.
Karen: Oh, I have to tell you, this is just for me a feast and I think for all our listeners, it’s been a feast. There is this fullness in you, Carolyn, and I’m grateful and grateful you gave us the time and you introduced us to new things. And I’m so thankful for the way that Henri has also been a blessing to you. I would encourage those who are listening – we’ve mentioned many different things. You’ll find all of them in the notes of our podcast. We’d love to introduce you to new books, to new ideas, to things that will make your life rich. I’ll just go back. Maybe the last thought would be really going back to that song about After This, just that sense in which our audience right now, they’ve all shared this experience, whether they’re listening from South Africa or from Japan, or from the Philippines, or from anywhere in North America, we’ve shared this experience. Maybe I’ll give you the last word. Where do you see us being? Where do you want to see us go?
Carolyn: It’s a profound question. Well, I think that each of us is invited to go deeper in to the heart of God. I was in a conversation yesterday where someone said, there’s much we don’t understand about God’s will, and about the way things unfold in our earthly experience. But one thing we know is that nothing irredeemable can happen to you. Nothing irredeemable can happen to you, nothing that God can’t turn into something beautiful. And I think COVID will turn out to not be irredeemable to speak in a double negative. I don’t think God sent COVID as some kind of lesson to us. I think we live on a broken planet and all kinds of messed up things happen. But I think God’s specialty is bringing beauty out of things we never expected to be beautiful. And so there is this invitation for each one of us, as we’ve been in such a season of disorientation, there’s this invitation into reorientation, deeper into the heart of God, which will bring us closer to each other.
As Henri taught us the deeper we go into the heart of God, the more solidarity we discover with each other as all of God’s little image bearers. So to everyone listening just say yes to that invitation deeper into the heart of a guide and have a patient expectation because things take a long time. These seismic changes of the heart take a long time, but have a patient expectation that God will redeem even and especially the hardest parts of your life into something really beautiful. If you’ll give them a chance. So hope and courage.
Karen: Honestly this has been such a delightful treat to talk with you, Carolyn, thank you. Thank you. To learn from you in a sense how you’re navigating this time, how Renovare is navigating this time. I want to tell our listeners, do be sure to go to our website and you’ll get all the notes that relate to what we’ve talked about today. And I especially want to encourage you go and have a listen to Carolyn Arends’ songs. You’re going to be blessed. You’re going to be made rich with good things.
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