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Rachel held Evans headshot

Like many people I know, online and off, I’ve spent the past week beginning to mourn Rachel Held Evans‘ death.

Rachel came across my radar nearly a decade ago, just before she released her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town. She was already writing online about faith in a way I’d rarely seen before: asking hard questions, wrestling with the tenets of the Christianity she’d grown up with and the layers of (often frustrating) evangelical messages attached to it.

After a warm email exchange, Rachel sent me an advance copy of Monkey Town. I read it avidly and found myself nodding at almost every page. Our experiences, as women raised in southern evangelical churches around the same time, were strikingly similar, and she rendered hers so well.

I kept reading Rachel’s blog, sometimes tweeting about her work or to/with her, for years afterward. I watched her grow bolder and more powerful in calling out the abuses of power (and abuse of many other kinds) perpetrated by churches and church leaders. She had the energy for the kind of online engagement I often shrink from, but I was (am) in awe of her voice and the way she used it. She wrote three other books, all of which I read and found well worth reading. She was no plaster saint: I watched her speak in impatience and anger sometimes, and I watched her listen and apologize and try to do better.

Rachel believed, fiercely, in the kind of Love that makes room for resurrection and redemption for all people. She championed the voices of women and LGBT people in the church. She made space for so many of us to grieve and doubt and ask questions – especially those who are refugees from a certain kind of evangelicalism, but who have not been able to stop wrestling with this story. She admitted, always, that she did not have all the answers.

We were all hoping and praying Rachel would get better after she went into the hospital with an infection a few weeks ago. My heart aches for her husband and two small children, her parents, and all those who knew and loved her. (Like Rachel, I am one of two sisters who are very different but love one another deeply, and I especially hurt for her sister Amanda.)

I’ve been amazed, in the last week, by how many people in different parts of my life have spoken about Rachel and what she meant to them. We miss her deeply, already. She was smart and fierce and thoughtful, kind and funny and faithful and brave. I never got to meet her in person, but she was my friend. May she rest in deep peace and love.

(Image from Rachel’s site)

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tulips flowers stone church Cambridge

I Worried

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not, how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

—Mary Oliver

tulip magnolia tree bloom blue sky

I love Mary Oliver, as regular readers know, but either hadn’t read this poem or had forgotten about it, until my friend Louise shared it on Instagram.

There is so much to worry over in the world – the second stanza especially hits me right in the heart, these days. But there are also so many reasons to sing.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month, as I do every year.

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red geranium flower close up

Delight, according to poet Ross Gay, is underrated: its very existence, the multiplicity of delights present in the world, the noticing and celebrating of said delights. (For what it’s worth, I agree with him.)

Between his 42nd and 43rd birthdays, Gay decided to capture as many delights as possible, and spin them out into a series of “essayettes.” The result, The Book of Delights, is a kaleidoscopic collection of joy–an accumulation of blessings that, piled up, create a larger enchantment.

I interviewed Ross via email for Shelf Awareness after reading The Book of Delights – the paragraph above is the first part of my review. His answers to my questions, not surprisingly, were a delight, so I wanted to share them with you. (And I highly recommend the book itself, which came out last week.)

KNG: Tell us about the inspiration for The Book of Delights.

RG: I was–this is not a joke–walking back to the castle I was staying in for the month of June in Umbria, at an artists’ residency. I was delighted, and acknowledged it. I was like, “Oh, this is really delightful!” It might have been the wildflowers at my feet swooning with bees, or the fig trees (unripe) everywhere, or the way Erykah Badu singing in your headphones usually makes things more delightful. Or the castle, I guess.

But I think catching myself in delight that day made me think it would be interesting and challenging and fun to do every day for a year. It was close to my birthday, so that was an easy form: birthday to birthday. And, too, the fact that I am always hungry, like deeply hungry, for writing about and thinking about and theorizing about and singing about that which I love.

How did you decide which delights to capture and expound upon? (You note that stacking delights is itself a delight, but at the same time, you cant write about them all!)

Today, outside my window, is what looks like a weird kind of poppy shrub–a cardinal just flipped by, and there goes her fella–which amazes and delights me, you know, because it’s January and, thank god, very cold outside, much too cold for a poppybush to be growing, whatever a poppybush is.

Then I realized I’d chucked a couple clementine peels out of the car when I was coming home from the store, and the way they landed behind the bald shrub, and from this distance, makes it look as though they are flowers on the tree, as though they are a poppybush, which they are. And one of those cardinals is so bright, looking right into this window from across the street, that he looks like a red light bulb. I mean, I don’t know. There is, along with all else, so much to delight upon, the way I see it.

I remember trying to write about things that really delighted me, but they just kind of spun out as essayettes and didn’t go anywhere. So probably I needed the delight to take me somewhere, which could mean associative wandering, or musical wandering, or digging really hard on a thing. But I guess the delights needed to offer a certain amount of puzzlement in addition to delight. They often had to make me ask why a thing delights me, which often took me far from delight–often took me nowhere I would have anticipated.

You talk about delight, and the noticing of it, as a muscle that can be strengthened, or a radar that grows more sensitive over time. Tell us about about the process of finding more delight as you went along.

I think I was prepared for a kind of scarcity of delight. To need to be scouring my life for delight to write these essayettes. And then, as I turned it on, it was like this is what Im doing, attending to my delight.

I found, with that attention, that I am often kind of delighted. And often delighted by things I didn’t realize delighted me. And that is a gift–to be like, “Oh, shoot, I love that jade plant that my student gave to me and I have spent all these years never realizing how much I love it!” Or, “I love that candy because it reminds me of my father, who could be so ridiculously sweet to us.” To do that again and again. But it took me giving myself the task of attending to and articulating the experience of delight to myself to realize that. Because, the truth is, my inclination has been kind of melancholic plus.

Delight, or at least the public celebration of it, has often been denied to black people in the U.S. Can you talk about writing a book of black delight. Daily as air?”

I think there’s a very clear desire (and industry) by some to crush the experience, or to imagine the experience, of black people into, simply, suffering and pain. Like if it isn’t pain, it isn’t black. If it isn’t about pain or reacting to or resisting pain, it isn’t black. Something like that. That’s bullsh*t, and it’s poisonous, all around. (Black pain as a salable product, a good, that’s familiar, huh?)

I’m interested in the full, weird, complex, surprising, tender humanity of my life, our lives. Which includes delight. (And I recommend Kevin Quashie’s book The Sovereignty of Quiet.)

Theres a perception that delight, joy or playfulness arent serious, or that celebrating them forces people to ignore the harsher realities of life. But your collection draws together the dark and the light, and takes joy and pleasure seriously. Were you consciously trying to strike that balance or was it more organic?

It’s a mistake to imagine that what is brutal or awful is the only thing worth talking about. Primarily because the brutal and the awful and the harsh are not the only thing.

I mean, what is the world in which the only thing worth talking about or thinking about or meditating on or studying, the only thing worthy of our fullest attention, is that which sucks? What are the results of thinking and counseling that joy–which, in my opinion, comes from the realization that we are utterly interdependent, we are utterly connected (part of that connection being that we all die)–is not worth studying? F*ck that.

I want to study the zillion ways we care for each other so that I can get better at caring. I want to study the ways we collaborate, the ways we interdepend, whether we acknowledge it or not, which we damn well better do.

Do you have advice for readers who may be inspired to start their own delight-noticing projects, or write about their delights?

I’m not that good for advice, but I will say there was something useful to me about dailiness, about making writing these delights a practice. I also think having a little time constraint was useful for me; it helped me to think in a looser, non-precious way. I loved writing them by hand, too–that helps me to think more bodily, which I think is more delightful, frankly. And then you can have these notebooks full of meditations on things that have delighted you–how lucky!

I originally conducted this interview and reviewed this book for Shelf Awareness, where both pieces appeared last week. 

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plants sunny window blue sky

Earlier this month, Laura Tremaine hosted her annual #OneDayHH Instagram challenge: documenting the details of an ordinary day. I’ve participated for several years now, and I always enjoy it, both in the moment and looking back on it later.

This fall, I’m doing a lot of moving between my two worlds: Harvard Square, still and always my home, and my newer Berklee neighborhood in Boston’s Back Bay, where I spend most of my workdays now. This year’s #OneDayHH fell on a Thursday when I spent a lot of time in both, so here are some of the highlights from that day.

november sunrise sky

I love watching (and snapping) the sunrise from our kitchen windows while I move around and make tea.

butler stop leaves fall trolley

My commute begins with a quick walk down the street to the trolley stop. The trees were still in full glorious leaf.

mem church leaves fall blue sky Harvard yard

I walked across the Yard to Mem Church for prayers, as I often do…

Darwin's chai berries journal coffee shop

…and then I headed to Darwin’s, to hang out and work for a while. I had chai (of course), Kelly’s homemade apple bread, blueberries and a bit of writing time.

Lowell house window view plants Harvard

Some Thursdays still include that Harvard writers’ meeting on the sixth floor, in one of my favorite places. This is the view of Lowell House from the window near Wendy’s desk.

I dashed to the florist after my meeting and then to Central Square to meet a girlfriend for lunch. I’d been meaning to try Andala Cafe, and it was delicious.

blue bikes central square Cambridge

Boston’s Blue Bikes are making my back-and-forth possible, these days, so I grabbed one for a quick ride back across the river.

Berklee desk flowers computer lamp work

I spent the afternoon partly here, at my desk: flowers, Oxford, tea, cards from friends, emails. I also spent a while in the sunny conference room – see photo at the top of this post. The plants love the sunshine as much as I do.

Berklee banner building Boston

The afternoon also included a walk to the other end of campus: I was supposed to meet a student. We missed each other, but I popped in to see a work friend, grabbed some Earl Grey from Pavement and headed back to the office to wrestle a podcast episode into submission.

prudential Boston sunset back bay

I left the office late and headed to the public library before meeting a friend for dinner at Flour and a wander around Trident. No photos from that part, but we didn’t need any.

I got home late and was exhausted – these dual-world days take a lot out of me. But I am grateful to belong in both places.

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neponset reflection dorchester water sky

I am a person who loves to hear the same stories over and over again.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve loved hearing my dad’s stories: anecdotes about family members or friends, or stories from when he was growing up in rural Missouri. We read – as many parents and children do – the same picture books over and over, before bed at night. (I still have a special place in my heart for a Little Golden Book called Home for A Bunny.)

I am my father’s daughter in this as well as other ways: I tell the same stories over and over again. My long-suffering husband and many of my friends have heard my stories more than once. And I am – as you know if you’ve heard me talk about my favorite books – an inveterate reader and re-reader.

I do this with music, too: I listened to Hamilton for six months straight once I discovered it and fell in love. I know nearly every word to a couple of Wailin’ Jennys albums (and so many George Strait songs from my childhood), among others. And lately, I’ve been listening to Headed Home, a 2015 release by The Light Parade, on repeat.

The Light Parade is Alex and Kara, two friends of mine from college who began making music back then (as Thus Far). I recently rediscovered their music, and it’s been keeping me company on long runs and train rides. I love many of the songs, but the first track – You Are Loved – is one of my favorites. I’ve been listening to it so often that its first line – you are loved with a fierceness you cannot understand – is playing on repeat in my head.

Yesterday I stood behind the communion table at our tiny church, looking out onto pews full of people I love and a few new faces I barely know. I told them about Alex and Kara’s song, and I said to them: we come together, every week, to hear the same stories and sing some of the same songs. And the message carried by many of those is the same: you are loved. With a fierceness you cannot understand. 

We come to church every week as ourselves: hurting, joyful, brave, broken, despairing, confident. We brim over with stories and wounds, and what we hear at church will – I hope – open up the way for healing and wholeness. If there’s one message, I said, that we should take away from here, one story I want to tell and to hear over and over again, it is this: you are loved. We are deeply and wholly loved.

May you know that today, wherever you are.

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dahlia purple stripe

Happiness is: dahlias in the morning light (courtesy of my beloved florist, of course). And settling in for a morning at Darwin’s, my very favorite place.

darwins scone stripe journal coffee shop table

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bookstore lenox sign natalie goldberg event

A couple of Sundays ago, I skipped out on church early and drove out to the Berkshires for the afternoon.

I’m a longtime fan of The Bookstore in Lenox, despite the fact that I only get out there every couple of years. Matt, the owner, writes a rambling, erudite e-newsletter which I love reading every week, and in early July I opened it to find that Natalie Goldberg was coming for a Sunday afternoon reading and book signing.

This came the day after I’d been talking to a friend about Natalie’s work – explaining how I stumbled on Writing Down the Bones the summer after I graduated from college, when an acquaintance was selling off a few of her books. I bought it and a few others (including Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water), never dreaming what an effect Natalie’s words would have on the way I thought about my writing and my life.

The whole afternoon, from start to finish, was a delight. It felt – as these things sometimes do – like grace unbidden.

bookstore lenox interior shelves

It started with the drive there, listening to good music on the radio and Elizabeth Gilbert’s delightful On Being episode, about following your curiosity. It continued when I walked into the store and heard the events manager testing the mic by reciting “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” in an Irish accent. He stopped after a couple of lines and mused, “Should I do the whole poem?” Everyone who’d already gathered responded, “Yes!”

I browsed a little while, then perched on a stool near the front counter for the event itself. Natalie arrived with her cousins in tow, and she was warm and down-to-earth, as I always hope authors will be. She read a few sections from her new book, standing in the middle of the store in a long black dress, telling us about love and illness and noticing, about grief and doctors and paying attention.

“You’re such deep listeners,” she kept saying to the group gathered in folding chairs or leaning against the back shelves. I think we were all simply fascinated. But it was clear that everyone in the room was so happy to be there.

I loved every moment: the breeze wafting through the open door, other browsers wandering in and out, my fellow audience members listening so intently and asking good questions. Most of all I loved hearing Natalie’s voice – which I have heard so often in my head over the years – in real life. Afterward, I went up and asked her to sign both her new book and my copy of Writing Down the Bones, bristling with Post-Its. “I’ll sign as many books as you want,” she had said to the crowd, and many of us took her up on that offer.

The great pleasure of any bookstore is browsing, of course, and I wandered among the shelves for a little while before and after the event. I ended up with a copy of Natalie’s new book (of course), a memoir by a 747 pilot, some Alastair Reid poetry, and Matt’s slim, self-published memoir of his years working at the now-defunct Gotham Book Mart in NYC. He exclaimed when I brought it to the register, and we had a delightful exchange. I told him I’d been there before, and how much I love the store. Matt offered to sign his book, and when I peeked inside I saw that he’d inscribed it – to my delight – “For Katie, who came back!”

I left feeling nourished in a soul-deep way: from having spent an afternoon among people who love words and good stories and this world. “I wanted to grab a hunk of living again and hold on tight,” Natalie writes in the introduction to her new memoir. That afternoon in Lenox was a vivid, flavorful hunk of living, and I savored its sweetness all the way home.

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