I recently sat down with my friend, contemplative singer-songwriter Alana Levandoski, to discuss her upcoming album exploring the life and spirituality of the 20th century Cistercian monk, scribe, and arguably leading mystic of modernity, Thomas Merton.
“Ever since I really consciously embodied my Christhood (a number of years ago in the back country of Colorado, on a fast), I have intuited that the boon I have to offer the world is connected to finding creative ways to awaken hearts to the abiding presence of God in all things and in us. That the minute something IS, it is incarnated and being transformed, somehow.
Recording music is my ‘delivery system’ to reveal this incarnational quality. In Behold, I Make all Things New, I paint the Christ Mystery beginning in the unknowns of origin (say, the big bang occurring), and how the very first atom was infused with this Holy presence, and I let the album arc through the story of Jesus and into you and me.
In Sanctuary: Exploring the Healing Path, James Finley and I convey the incarnate beauty even in suffering – not the cause of the suffering, but the possibility of healing or learning in that suffering. The discovery that we are ‘precious in our fragility.’
Point Vierge is no exception to awakening hearts to this Presence. The whole project tells the tale of an almost-mythic Seeker who matures in his encounter with this Presence and as he grows; this Presence is felt much less ‘out there’ and more ‘in here.’
I am using Jim Finley’s work on Merton, where he observes Merton’s contemplative access points, to help with the story arc: philosophical reflection, art, prayer, nature, solitude, human intimacy, suffering, healing.
There is a journal entry from the late 1930’s when Merton is in Cuba. He’s entered a church, which he makes known has its doors wide open. He stands there and hears a man sing “Yo creo,” (I believe), and a choir of children sing it back. Merton becomes so aware of the presence of God everywhere that he feels ‘lightening bolts’ and ‘thunder claps.’ Fast-forward years later and he warns against what he calls the ‘wrong flame’ in New Seeds of Contemplation, intimating that these overblown spiritual experiences can make our egos feel separate and over-identified with being spiritual! This project is really about a seeker’s maturing, awakening to incarnation (without discounting one’s younger experiences). It is also telling the story of the shift from self-contempt to living as beloved.”