Showing Up ~ an Artist’s Healthy Alternative to Entitlement

 

I am about to run my second Kickstarter campaign for the new album I am making with contemplative trauma therapist, James Finley. It is called Sanctuary ~ Exploring the Healing Path with Alana Levandoski and James Finley. This project has consistently bubbled up creatively for me over the past number of months, and I am deciding to trust that weird instinctual “voice” saying, “Please make me!”Album Cover James Finley Project

That being said, I have learned from the past, and from a recent fidelity to a sacred way of life, that I am not entitled to make or record music. Paradoxically, I do feel compelled, even required, to show up and do the work, whether it is made possible to be incarnated into the world and offered or not.  In other words, I have composed the material, have worked with the graphic designer and spent many hours building the Kickstarter campaign, but I am not entitled to the outcome.

I wanted to share this publicly to hold myself accountable, as I move forward with my Kickstarter launch. I also hold myself publically accountable to have fun during the process, for that too was lost to me in the old model! I don’t think it is possible to have actual fun and be entitled at the same time!

I publicly announce that I am showing up for this with my whole heart and will work to my utmost to deliver healing beauty into the world. But this “showing up” is my healthy alternative to “making it happen”. I am not self-made!

Amen, a million times, amen!

The first email from the online course that went live today

My very first online course went live this morning.  I built it for folks who want to go deeper with my album.  Below is the initial email that went out to folks who have signed up for the course.  Sign up by clicking HERE.

Hello and welcome to the online video course for Behold, I Make all Things New.

This album is one of those creations that ends up having a life of its own and some folks seem to really “get” it. My job now is to try and get it heard and help folks to go deeper with it if I can.

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To begin, I am not a scholar in the traditional or official sense of the word. I am a songwriter and writer who’s deliberated over becoming a priest in the Anglican/Episcopal tradition for many years, but keep coming back to this sense that if I were to head down the road of seminary, I may “lose the poetry” in the process. So here I am, without the qualifications to be a keeper of the jewel that is the Christian tradition, but perhaps I am still at license to approach the Christ Narrative with the eyes and ears of a songwriter, as one with a knack for story and maybe even a slight knack for the sideways nuances of wisdom teachings.

This morning I invite you to enter into origins. Experience the sensation of coming from mystery and moving toward mystery. Allow yourself to feel out of control of causes and outcomes.

As I sang Behold, I Make all Things New (Alpha), and subsequently (Omega), for this album, part of the way in which they were sung, was out of lament. I would call these songs, “hopeful laments”. As Walter Brueggemann says in his book Prophetic Imagination, “The task of prophetic imagination is to cut through the numbness, to penetrate the self-deception, so that the God of endings is confessed as Lord.” He goes on to include new beginnings in this context, but initially speaks to endings, to get the point across that we don’t want to hear about endings being a prerequisite to new beginnings.

Within this beautiful line from Revelation, (or as some might say today: “Christ from the future”), is held many, many endings. As many endings as there are. This was a hard lesson for me to learn over the years, but I have grown to know it is a hopeful lament that may come in the form of a relationship ending, or, in many conscious relationships, in the form of ritual and mutual understanding that supports the call to some form of change. It may come as a result of a job ending, a location change, the loss of an identity, the death of a loved one, or the dormancy of winter with the promise of spring.

In these times of endings and the challenge of being present to the pain, we are lost in chronos time in disbelief that anything good is on the horizon, but also, if we choose to, we get to hang out ironically in kairos time which is a strange inexplicable comfort during times when endings are prevalent.

I attended a talk on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin recently and one of the questions that was asked was that Teilhard often gets criticized for being too optimistic and where was the presence of the cross in his teaching? The answer was around the fact that Teilhard actually gleaned much of his hopeful insight through the experience of being a stretcher carrier during the 1st World War, as well as his exile to China. It was also through the pain of discovering as a child, the impermanence of matter that brought him to meditate on Christ’s intertwinement with the whole of creation. (This notion that Christ is at the mercy of matter, as we are.)

So I ask you to sit where you are, with whatever reality you are being asked to face, with this hopeful lament on the tip of your tongue and woven into your heart. Perhaps you will sense the presence of Christ in solidarity with what you are at the mercy of.

May you be nurtured and comforted amidst the grown-up reality of endings and may you flourish anew with love and hope.

With love,

Alana

 

The Family Hermitage ~ a New Monastic Way

 

My family and I have been abiding by a sacred schedule for the past year and in particular concentration since my husband Ian lost/left his job of 16 years through an amicable lay-off in July. This allowed enough time for me to release my album Behold, I Make all Things New but also for our home life to take on the tone of our own making.

Sacred Budget

It began even before that however, with a huge financial makeover that consisted of culling unnecessary, unconscious spending and being conscious stewards of whatever small amount we’ve been given so that if we made the move to each running a small business, we would be ready for trim living. This did not happen in the comfort zone. It was one of the biggest and best blowouts of our marriage (so far) but it confronted some ghosts and we were able to move through it. And it was necessary.

Sacred Space

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The wall in our great room.

 

We also needed a place in the world that was conducive to launching from, and at the time were living in a tiny house we had built, on our friend’s property. We started house hunting and soon realized that even with the salary we were used to, our options were pretty slim to make a home purchase and still be remotely near our teenage daughter (my stepdaughter, Ian’s daughter). Eventually, we found a ramshackle old cabin that happened to be on a double lake lot 30 minutes away from our daughter. It took a lot of work to figure out a way to purchase this property as a mortgaged asset. Eventually we discovered there is a “purchase plus improvements” mortgage option. We took possession May 31st, 2014 and with some hired help during the month of July, rebuilt this little 600 sq ft cabin from the ground up. I pretty much painted the whole house with baby Oliver in the snuggly and we worked when we could from dawn till dusk until late October and moved in before the first snowfall.

Our mortgage is less than a two-bedroom basement apartment would be in the city.

So now with a “place to stand”, we have been developing our little place which a friend recently called our “family hermitage”.

Ian spent the summer and turned our old shed into a studio with a lean-to addition. It is insulated and has electricity.

By reclaiming material and doing it ourselves, between the studio and the house, we spent less on all the renovations than most folks spend on their kitchen renovation. These decisions have enabled us to foster our small businesses and allows for me to put the music out there that seems to be asking to be made.

Sacred Time

Last New Years, we co-created a sacred schedule. I operate on a 3-hour workday in the mornings and Ian operates on a 4-hour workday in the afternoons. We use our studio as seriously as we would an actual job site. But the day operates on somewhat of a monastic schedule inspired by my time living with the Benedictines as well as my time studying at various L’Abri’s throughout the world.

Ian wakes up before Oliver and I do, and does centering prayer for 40 minutes. Oliver and I wake up and Ian and I read out loud to each other, and then chant the Psalms, often with Oli sitting with us or flipping through one of his own books. We have breakfast, and then go for a walk, which is a huge contemplative benefit to me because I’m a high metabolism, creative freak! I head to the studio and do a 15-minute centering prayer session, attempting to gently let go of all that feels pertinent or important for the day or in general. Then I get to work, either on the creative side or the business side (independent musicians spend more time trying to get their music heard than they do making music!). 11am is teatime and I head in to connect with my family. I go back out for another hour and come in to make lunch. We have a book of prayers we use for mealtime that is all about acknowledging the earth. Then it’s my turn to hang out with Oliver and be in his world and Ian goes to work in the studio. He comes in at 3pm for teatime.

Once suppertime is here, we are all in the house and we spend time together until Oliver goes to bed. I have had yoga one evening a week and Ian has a men’s group one evening. Oliver has a parent-led playgroup that he and Ian attend one morning a week.

Weekends are spent here with our daughter who has a loft bedroom in our little place. And we attend an Anglican church community on Sunday.

There are hiking trails nearby, we have a canoe that was given to us, and when our kids are older, we can cross country ski.

Sacred Service

We also serve out in the world, so some days don’t look exactly like I have just illustrated. Ian does an incredible cultural program in schools educating and inspiring healthy interaction using social dance. And I perform my music. This fall I did 20 performances.

Sacred Exposure

I also mention gently, without judgment, that we don’t expose our son to screens. He is 2, and has never watched a show and has only experienced FaceTime to connect with grandparents. He has incredible exposure to books, to music, and especially in the summer, to parks and nature. This is our personal choice and it has been a wonderful experience.   We plan to make special movie nights when our kids are older (as we do with our teenage daughter) but unconscious screen time is not on the future menu. Maybe he’ll rebel and become a video game addict when he moves out, but in the meantime, this is the foundation we are building.

Sacred Narrative

We use a regular calendar but were also recently given a liturgical calendar that operates on the Christian narrative instead of the months, which we use as a reminder that we choose to live outside of the dominant narrative of this culture. We use the monthly calendar to “be in the world”.

To get us started with chanting the Psalms, we bought Cynthia Bourgault’s book entitled Chanting the Psalms. It gives a history of the practice as well as a pretty solid reason why it is still useful today. Cynthia also has a very brilliant way of helping us to hear texts in a way where we don’t close too quickly or take it in too quickly. Using her book as context we are able to chant even the hard Psalms with subtle ears that hear across the plains of time.

This New Years, Ian and I have been developing a written Rule. We have been using the Franciscan 3rd Order as a bit of a guideline this year as well as a bit of inspiration from my time with the Benedictines. A focus on holy work, holy leisure, holy play, holy justice, holy creativity etc.

What makes it holy?

What makes this sacred?

Part of what makes this sacred might need to be put into a sort of “Walter Brueggemann context”. We don’t have a sacred schedule and aren’t developing a Rule with the intention of keeping everything under control, although chaos is not what dominates our household, which is a bonus! We have a sacred schedule and are developing a Rule because we choose to keep awake in the midst of what Walter Brueggemann would call “royal numbness”. It is not out of a need for control that we choose this life, but out of a desire to release it.

The other part that makes it sacred is that we see the whole of what we do, whether interacting with our children, writing an email or doing laundry as incarnate activity.

Sacred Hospitality

We also have hospitality in the mix of our life. We have had visitors come and stay in our studio, which has a murphy bed, or in tents during the summer. One American friend who needed to process a bunch of stuff, stayed on for two weeks last July. She is the one who calls our place the “family hermitage”. She even canoed with some intentions across the lake and fasted and slept under the stars for a day and night.

One of our closest friends just stayed here and used the studio all weekend to record the bed tracks for a children’s album.

Sacred Imperfection

I will disclaim that although this might sound utopian, this is all done in the midst of our imperfections. I am no picnic, and struggle with intensity (especially when I’m pregnant!). Ian has his challenging traits, just like all of us do. But something Jim Finley says sort of applies here “The master is just as confused as the student, but the master is simply no longer confused by his confusion.” We aren’t masters yet, but confusion is no longer ruling the roost. We may find ourselves on the defense, or hurt, or annoyed, but the ground on which we stand, enriched by intention and practice is beginning to have the last word. It massages our hearts into the capacity to say sorry and to forgive much more quickly.

And lastly, none of this cushions us from the vulnerability of mortality, loss or suffering. It is not something any of us likes to think about, but I want to say it here, because it is true. Madeleine L’Engle said “to be alive is to be vulnerable” and this way of life makes one very alive.

I will post the actual weekly schedule soon, as well as our Rule. If any of you are interested in this “new monastic” approach to family life, I encourage you to let this inspire you, but then move to co-create the schedule that works for your reality. If you feel it is right for you to change jobs or living spaces or whatever, let it be your heart’s intuition guiding you. That being said, always pay heed and draw from wisdom of the monastic tradition, because otherwise you will find yourself out on a rather foolish limb, hanging in mid air with no trunk or roots to hold you, when the storms come.

Answering the big questions with – “the whole shootin’ match is Holy”

The great contemporary American poet Wendell Berry said that… “the whole shootin’ match is Holy”.  I keep this as my deepest mantra these days as we are bombarded with cheapened versions of this world and of ourselves.

Because my album Behold, I Make all Things New is a Christ Narrative that runs from the mystery of origin to Advent, through the Jesus story and into the era of conscious incarnation, I have been asked by quite a few people to create a guide for folks to walk through the album with. 

Check it out here:

 

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Questions came to my heart when I approached creating this album and they seem even more heightened since the insanity of politics, violence and retaliation have practically exploded these past few weeks, creating a force field of dualism and fear, across the world. Because of how globally connected we are, I might go so far to say that the world has never seen such a force field all hooked up to the same issues, contributing energy on one side or the other to highly polarized politics.

How do we stay the course of love and wisdom in the midst of a barrage of opinions, outcries and retaliatory rhetoric?

How do we discern prophetic action from retaliatory action?

In his homily addressed to the Trinity Church on Wall St, Fr Richard Rohr recently said “we are more interested in Retributive Justice than Restorative Justice”.

How do we embody a desire for Restorative Justice as we approach the possible breakdown of our current way of life?

While I can’t say my album answers all of these questions, I can say that what I did was attempt to put Christianity’s best foot forward and really pluck the heartstrings of people who claim to follow Jesus in these times. I used quotes from Jesus and Paul and quite a bit of scripture as well as my own words, hoping to allow for my own participation to be included.

I couldn’t put Hinduism’s best foot forward because I wouldn’t know where to start! But I do know that every religion must, not out of competition with each other, but out of friendship and harmony, openly embrace the most beautiful and the most loving teachings of each faith if we want the hope of human survival.

This is my small contribution.

After receiving requests for this, I’ve made a course that walks you through the album. If you decide this is a course you’d like to use for your study group or individually, I would ask that you deeply consider how important meditating and waking up to incarnation truly is. I don’t know who originally said “the ground of being” but I can say that this ground is holy, and walking this ground with our eyes open and our hearts ready to love at whatever cost, is imperative at this time.

I am one of the keepers of the jewel that is Christianity… and part of that means that by its very origin, I have to acknowledge that, ironically, it is a post-tribal faith, (although you wouldn’t know it from history).  In other words… Jesus knew the “whole shootin’ match was Holy”.

Behold, I Make all Things New highlights one of the least historically highlighted treasures of the Christian tradition and invites us to awaken to incarnation in such a profound way, that come what may, we know whose we are. The very stuff the whole of Creation is made of is Holy. Everyone and all things. To stand in this awareness is to walk awakened in a world that generally forgets the stuff we are made of and spirals into revenge, violence and power posturing as ultimate virtue.

This course compliments the album and takes you deeper and deeper into awakening to conscious incarnation. If that won’t send out a force field of beauty and light and love, what will? But it starts with each one of us and the decisions we make everyday.

Do we treat this planet as sacred? Do we see Christ in each other and in all things? Do we take action, believing the Holy also permeates the most ridiculous politician, terrorist or racist? Do we hope and pray for Restorative Justice for them, even as we choose to speak out against their words and actions?

If we embody what my album is getting at, then that will be the challenge we face. It is no longer so easy as “us and them” when “Christ is all in all”!

One of my heroes, Denis Edwards, author of Jesus and the Cosmos and Ecology at the Heart of Faith, says this of Behold, I Make all Things New: 

“Alana’s songs sing of the Love that is at the heart of everything, the galaxies and stars, the animals and the trees of Earth. They tell of Love come to us in an unthinkable way in Jesus. They celebrate the transformation already at work in new creation. They lead me to a place of contemplation.” 

The prophetic call is one that can be very frustrating as we witness a spiraling chaos that always appears to have the last word.

We hope and believe that the Word made flesh, there in that first particle billions of years ago, is still here with us, suffering and enduring all things, outpouring love and wooing us to awaken to who we are. Beloved. Holy. Children of the Light. 

What you get in this course:

-16 Teaching Videos that walk through the album and focus/meditate on incarnation

– Downloadable PDF Questionnaires that will engage your study group or simply your own imagination

– Downloadable MP3s of each song from Behold, I Make all Things New

– Downloadable lyrics

– An email reminder with a 500 word current meditation PDF sent on the day your next video is available.

– Additional videos to share with your church, community or group

Get the course HERE.

Who is my Neighbour? And Jesus answered…

 

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The Good Samaritan, Unknown Master, The Netherlands, 1500’s

 

I know billions of words have been written on the subject of the past four days. I know social media is flooded with the dualism of folks for or against refugees being welcomed and whether bombs should be dropped.

But in times like these, we need hope and we need to be bold for the sake of love, so I am following an inner prompting that I’ve been trying to silence and ignore, and am writing on the subject of welcoming the stranger and on peace.

Maybe this will only reach “the choir” and not one Christian will see this that believes in keeping refugees out and in dropping bombs. But if my newsfeed is any indication, it’s a flurry of both opinions to the point where I’ve considered defriending people because of how violent their statements are becoming.

I am a Christian. So I look at this from Christian eyes. I also look at this from the eyes of someone who, because she is a Christian, often gets lumped in with the insanity of fundamentalist expression. I know how painful it can feel to watch my culture view such a beautiful faith by the horrible ways it has manifested historically and otherwise. I can guarantee you that a large percentage of Muslims in the world are feeling this way. I understand them and it’s so hard to keep saying, “we’re not like that” or “we’re not one of those types”.

I understand why rational people want to be rid of religion. But really, the only hope I see is transformation and transcendence, not leaving it behind altogether.  At least not until we use these wisdom vehicles to enter into a unity with God that needs no explanation, because it just is.   I would bet that outside of the conspiracies that float through my heart and mind, much of what is happening right now is due to the Great Turning that Joanna Macy speaks about. We are in a huge shift and whenever there is a great shift in history, violence breaks out, and people often default to fear.

Walter Brueggemann highlights two scholars, Stephen Toulmin’s and Susan Brodo’s, observations that Descartes’ response to the assassination of King Henry the IV of Navarre was out of profound anxiety as the medieval world collapsed. Calling this collapse a loss of “home” that incited a sense of dislocation and displacement. Brueggemann and these other scholars suggest, “The Cartesian development was not a buoyant act of imagination but was instead a desperate maneuver to cope with anxiety. Thus, “objectivity” emerged as a way to fend off ominous chaos.”

I meditate on this quite regularly because as the ground begins to shift underneath us, and the world truly begins its shift from the last scraps of tribalism into the unknowns of post-tribalism, I want to train now to be wise and Christ-like in my response, come what may.

If there’s one thing we can observe because we have a long enough line of history to see it; whenever big historical shifts happen, the friction gets hotter and the tension gets tighter.  I say these words very soberly with a 15-week-old baby in my womb and a two-year-old beautiful boy sleeping in his bed. Trust me, I’m feeling vulnerable.

But here it is. I take Jesus to be my example and Jesus was not tribal. We see it in the story of the Good Samaritan, which was his response when someone asks, “Who is my neighbor?” We see it when he says, “whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.” We see it when he says, “love your enemies”.

The most striking picture of Jesus that has hit me this week is the scene where Peter draws a sword and cuts off the ear of the servant of the High Priest.  Jesus tells Peter to put his sword away and then heals the ear of the man.

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Christ Healing the Ear of Malchus, unknown artist, 17th Century, The Bowes Museum, Bernard Castle

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How can we stop being Peter with the sword and start to be Jesus with the healing hands? He knew they were coming for his life and he not only didn’t retaliate, but also reached out to heal someone who was a member of the mob who had come to take him to his death!  What spiral went out from the man he healed after that?   And what spiral would have gone out from him, should Peter have been allowed to retaliate?

If we don’t start consciously bringing refugees into our midst, loving them and offering our great abundance, we will one day find them at our shores with weapons instead of hungry bellies,  bearing bitter looks of abandonment and betrayal on their faces because we had the resources and power to help and didn’t.

If we don’t stop dropping bombs, we will continue to be responsible for the spiral of violence that our children will be asked to face.

One of my early theological influences as a teenager was Francis Shaeffer, a man I haven’t always agreed with on every point but still deeply respect.  Something Schaeffer consistently spoke about was the “sin of personal peace and affluence”.

We take a risk every time we get in our vehicle (In America, approximately 2597 vehicle collision fatalities happen every month). We take a risk every time we feed our children (more than 12,000 children under 14 either die from or get treated for food related choking every year in the US).

So let’s get risky and start loving the hell out of this world.

PS:  I challenge you to sit in silence for 10 minutes tonight and send love to the wounded places in the world.  Let your heart break and let it pour into these locations in pain without prejudice.  We are all God’s children.  All of us.

The Songbook is here!!!

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Click on the photo of the songbook to head to the store!

We created a commentary and songbook to companion Behold, I Make all Things New.  This is the perfect addition for those who want to go deeper and bring this body of work into their community.