Blog

Mission Unplugged Episode 5 - Miriam Dale

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Miriam Dale is an award-winning poet-theologian. She has studied at Ridley College and Melbourne School of Theology. Her book, The Weight of Hope, won the 2016 SparkLit Young Australian Christian Writer award. She has lived Egypt, Germany, and Syria, and has been heavily involved in cross-cultural work from a young age. In this episode of Mission Unplugged, Mitch caught up with Miriam to talk about how cross-cultural understandings of the Bible expand our horizons, how faith, poetry, and contemplative prayer hang together, and what it's like to be an artist in the Church.

--

Mitch: Hey, Miriam, welcome to the podcast. 

Miriam: Thanks so much for having me. It's a real pleasure to be here digitally.

Mitch: It's a pleasure having you on. I'm really excited to chat with you and hear about your experiences of mission, of cross-cultural work, and your poetry and all the other interesting things that go into making you who you are. So I wanted to kick us off by starting really broad and just asking you, what does mission mean to you?

Miriam: Well, since you've asked me a really broad question, I'm going to give a really broad answer and say, I think at its most basic foundational level, mission is participating in God's big story. It's joining him in his work and it's living out our relationship with him, most fully because our relationship with him is not designed to be just us and God, it actually also then impacts our relationship with other people and with the world and with creation. And I think mission fits into all of those things and it is the living out of one of the things he's created us to be and do, in all of our different lives and ways of expressing it, I guess. So that's a really broad answer. I have more detail to kind of go into, but that might get it started.

Mitch: Yeah that's great. For a bit of background for our listeners about yourself, tell us a bit about your early years and your formation. Did you grow up in the Church?

Miriam: Yeah, so I grew up in the Church. My parents have always taken their faith really seriously and it's been really important to them. So I grew up with an understanding of that and attending church regularly. I didn't actually grow up in Australia. So if you hear different accents coming through my conversation that's unintentional. So I grew up overseas and related to a whole bunch of people from a whole bunch of different backgrounds and so that has impacted the way I talk as well as lots of other things. Yeah, so I spent most of my growing up years in the middle east in Egypt and Syria, and then attending a boarding school in Germany and all of those had a really strong church component, all aspects of kind of life there, but also a really strong sense of not everyone saw the world as I did. And that, that was a thing that happened and that, that was kind of okay to talk about and to have conversations about. 

So a lot of my neighbors were Muslim. I didn't actually grow up around atheists or agnostics, at least people who weren't proclaiming that they were atheist or agnostic. And so that was something that I sort of took me by surprise when I moved back to Australia, but I grew up more with yeah, Christians and Muslims who both were really kind of devout and took their faith seriously, or at least had a strong sense that it was a big part of their identity. So that's really formed, I think my understanding of faith as a big part of identity and something that impacts lots of areas of life. And also something that is really fun to talk about, because in a lot of those cultures the first question that you asked someone might be their name and the second question if you haven't already blamed it by their name, because often names indicate which kind of religious or faith background people were from in those contexts. The second question might be, what's your religious belief? And lots of just really positive conversations about that. So I love talking about this stuff, which again, took some of my Australian friends by surprise when I moved back here.

Mitch: Yeah. We take a pretty different approach to faith in the public sphere don't we?

Miriam: Yeah. It's often considered to be a really personal private thing here. And while I think there is really obviously a personal and private aspect to faith, yeah I love discussing it. I think it’s great.

Mitch: How does those experiences change the way that you interact with faith compared to other Australians that you meet?

Miriam: Well, so for people who've grown up overseas particularly with a similar kind of experience, so the broader category is as TCK or third culture kids. One of the things that you may notice if you've met a third culture kid, is that we're not always very good at small talk and there's a whole range of reasons for that. There's a whole body of research around why TCKs are weird in their own particular way. But I think that means that's kind of combined with growing up around people who are really comfortable to talk about, often quite personal things like religion. And with family members who really kind of love to talk about all that stuff as well to mean that I don’t do small talk particularly well. And I love to talk about the big things in life. And I love to find out about different cultural contexts and try and understand what things look like from different perspectives. 

I think it's equipped me to understand that even within Christianity while there is an objective Truth, capital T, often what we perceive as objective truth is like extra stuff that we've added onto the Bible because of our reading of it from our cultural context. So it's given me the challenge to ask questions about how much of this is me reading it as a 20th century, quote, unquote, "Western Christian" or how much of this is something that's in the text. It's made me uncomfortable with the phrase, “obviously from the text,” because as soon as someone says that I'm like, I just don't think you get the question. Our “a clear reading of the text tells us…” Now, I think, you know, I believe really firmly in trusting the Bible. I also believe really firmly in reading it intelligently and with an understanding of genre and history and context and in the context of relationship with God, most importantly. I think that's something I feel really strongly about. We can deconstruct lots of things around us in the world. But it's good to read the Bible both intelligently and in the context of relationship with God. So we don't need to dig away at our very foundations as we're standing on them. That's a bit tangential. Sorry.

Mitch: No, it's good. It's good. Kind of off the back of that, I'm curious if there's things in your past experience, particularly time spent in the Middle East that have really strongly influenced the way that you read the Bible.

Miriam: Yes, would be the short answer. But I mean, sometimes it's hard to distinguish what they are because it's kind of built in a little bit. I think the fact that English isn't the language the Bible was written in, which cognitively most people know, but often we forget, and that actually when you read the Bible in different languages, again, like when the Hebrew and Greek is translated into different languages, it can do different things. And that forms theology. So yeah, reading particular parables in the light of different cultural contexts really can reframe what that looks like.

I was talking to my aunt who spent some time working overseas as well. And she was telling me about, for her there was a bit of a light bulb moment when she was reading… When Jesus talks about ‘don't put your light under your bed, like let your light shine,’ and she says, well in Tanzania where she was working, beds are like on the ground. So there's not sort of a gap underneath. And so as soon as you put something lit underneath, well A, you're at risk of setting it on fire but B it actually just goes out immediately. And so it's not even a sense of, and this ties back into what is mission. It's not that God is telling us, don't kind of be secretive about your faith. I think he's telling us like to share your faith is to grow it and to give it life and air and to be secretive or fearful, or completely private about your faith is to actually deprive it of life. We can either run the risk of weakening it. So I think that's an example, I've actually just used that example for my aunt, but I think it really encapsulated, even understanding like the good shepherd and the way that Jesus describes himself as the good Shepherd, in the middle east shepherds walked behind their sheep, not in front. And it's this kind of sense of they walk with and protect and guide from the rear and the front and like all around, but they actually, they're not just leading out in front and expecting the sheep to keep up, they're walking amongst and guiding them and walking behind the sheep. And it's the sense of accompaniment and protection and company that we don't often get from the sense of the leader up ahead, that perhaps we think of when we think of shepherds in different contexts.

Shame and honor stuff, which is really big Biblically is also really been in the Middle East. And so that's helped my understanding of some of those passages. The experiences of women in the Bible I think has impacted that as well. Because there are some similar cultural kind of paradigm going on there and the concepts of purity and impurity. It helps as well that my mother's a theologian and an anthropologist and an ethnographer. And so she's done huge amounts of work on concepts of shame and honor and concepts of purity and impurity in different cultural contexts. So I have all of those kind of rattling around in my head. When I read the story of the woman who's been bleeding for 12 years, what the implications are there and when I read parables like that too. That's a long answer to a short question.

Mitch: No, it's great. And it touched on a couple of key figures in your life and your formation. Can you tell me a bit about who are the people that have sort of fed into you as you've grown and developed your own faith?

Miriam: Well I think the easier and obvious answers for me would be my family. I think growing up and watching how my parents do faith and how they took it seriously and how they were very open with being human and with just what that meant, but also seeking to serve God in every setting and with the way that they prayed and the way they cared for people. And I think most of all, the fact that their life is built around what is going to give glory to God. And actually that's the biggest driver for them, has been hugely significant for me. Because I think there are a lot of reasons to do a lot of things in life. But when you come back to the question of does this give glory to God, and am I living my life for him, it kind of reframes things, it keeps reframing things. But that sense of greater purpose is actually really helpful as well because it holds you when other things are falling away. So I think that's been really significant. And they both have a strong sense of faith that really takes the Bible seriously. And it really takes prayer seriously. But they both express it very differently. They're very different people. So I think all of those things have been really helpful to teach me about that. Who else? It's kind of like lots of different people along the way. People who pray for me, there's one woman who I met, a grand total of maybe three times, but to be honest, she kind of freaked me out too. She had such an intense personality, but she prayed so well and so hard and like introduced me to like aspects of the Holy Spirit. And I was like, wow, I didn't realize this was a thing. And so that was really significant. 

Yeah, teachers in high school who were thoughtful and prayerful and impactful in those ways and showed what it meant to live. I think having a whole bunch of different role models around what it meant to all be following Jesus and to all be individuals was really helpful. What else? I did a one year theology course with you Mitch called Year In The Son…

Mitch: Good times.

Miriam: Yeah, intense times. …which is the precursor of something that's called Next that runs now.  Although that course had its pros and cons, I really appreciated it. You have the freedom to ask questions, the freedom to take seriously what social justice looks like now. And the lessons around contemplative faith and spirituality, which I'd started to kind of, I've learned from my parents but I didn't realize there were kind of broader fields of expertise on that. So that was really helpful. And that's been a really significant part of my faith and gave me language for what I suspected about prayer and about the nature of God and what it meant to sort of spend time with God and breathe him in and wait on him. Like all of those practices have been really significant. 

And studying theology. MST, which is the university I'm studying at the moment, has this little quote on their advertising postcard from a couple of years ago that said that doing theology will melt your mind or might stretch your mind or hurt your mind, but it will transform your heart. And I think studying theology does that for me consistently. I'll often come out of a class and just be like, what? How? Trinity, what? But actually once got why the Trinity was a big deal, that was a game changer for me. And why without the Trinity Christianity cannot be, not just because of Jesus wouldn't exists, but actually the very nature of the Trinity is that important, understanding Church history and how we kind of got to where we are and how theology shifts and changes, but God remains the same. I think those things have been really significant. I think different mentors across the years have been really significant in helping me to reframe, to ask better questions. Yeah, even just to calm down, which is a really important lesson in life too. So yeah, I think that's a summary. 

Mitch: Yeah. That's good. A lot goes into the formation of a person.

Miriam: Yeah. Yeah. And it's hard to know. I mean, how many sermons go into like shifting your faith a millimeter or a mile? So like every preacher and every person who's, ah, so many people who've been praying for my family. And like the amount that goes on kind of behind the scenes, I guess that I'm not aware of, of people praying. My aunt sent me a message the other day saying, ‘oh, happy baptism day’. You know, I was baptized as a baby, you know, born Anglican. And she said, you know, what was it, 25, 30 years ago? We prayed these prayers for you and we really love seeing God answering them. And it was just really lovely and encouraging. Yeah, actually when I was by like coincidence I ended up attending a church that I was baptized in years later. We had friends there and so I started going there and I didn't, I'd forgotten, maybe mum and dad had told me once that I was baptized there. And then one day a new minister had come and so he was looking through the registry of all baptisms. And I used to work there as a cleaner as well. So I was cleaning the church and he came up and he's like, oh, guess what I found in the registry of baptisms. He's like, I found you were baptized. I was like oh, wow. Yeah. And then that week at communion when he gave me communion, he said, your parents' prayers were answered; this is you living out in the faith that they pray for you. I was crying. It was really beautiful. 

Mitch: That's really nice.

Miriam: A lot of prayer.

Mitch: You touched on this earlier. And I think it's come up a few times that prayer and contemplation are really important parts of your faith. And I know that your poetry is also a big part of that. Could you walk us through, you know, what do you mean by contemplation? And so how does that hang together with poetry and artistic expression?

Miriam: Oh, I wish I had this quote with me, but I'm going to try and remember it. So I think I grew up knowing that you interact with God through reading the Bible and through prayer. And there's a whole lot of sermons, a whole lot of resources around what prayer is and looks like. So I won’t kind of burrow into all of that, but I also grew up seeing my parents interact with God and learn through sitting in silence and through waiting and through the same books that they would read over and over again, little kind of devotional, reflective books, and through looking at nature and creation and seeing kind of how God revealed himself in that space. So I think I grew up with all of that understanding and like slowly, starting to grasp it a bit more when I had conversations with my parents about it and with what it meant to lean into that and to wait on God.

And then I think when I was about 18 or 19, I was a leader on a camp and we had a little prayer room going and the woman who'd run the prayer room had just brought a whole bunch of photocopies of some quotes about prayer. And I picked one up and it's been on my wall ever since at every house that I've lived in. It’s a quote by a guy called Henri Nouwen, who was a, I want to say a Jesuit priest. He was Catholic. I can't remember, anyway, from Belgium. And he just articulated a lot of what I'd struggled with or tried or had suspected in faith, which he talks about, so driving to the chapel every day for an hour and sitting in silence. And he sort of said, these regular hours are not times of peace or of great spiritual experience. They're often boredom and sleeping and in frustration. But it's only afterwards, after the fact, I noticed that in my desire to return to this hour, that actually God is doing something in me, that he is touching me where I cannot see him or feel him and he's smiling on me, even though I cannot see him. He’s sort of changing my heart. In then these regular so-called useless times become a, how does he describe it, a pathway through which our prayers can flow, like the river that flows to the sea. 

And it's that sense of so-called wasting time with God, waiting on him, even when it's frustrating to wait, even when you don't feel like it's profound or spiritual or eye-opening, that is both a sacrifice of time to God and an honoring of God in that, but there is also, it's a practice of just prioritizing him and giving space for him to work in us whether we're always aware of it or not. And that sense of being still and waiting. Like I said, I kind of had found that useful in my prayer life, but wasn't sure I had words for it until I found this quote by Henri Nouwen and so I started reading some of his work. So one of my favorites books that I recommend is called, I think it's called The Three Spiritual Pathways and he just talks about the journey from loneliness to solitude, from fear to love, from isolation to prayer. And so it's kind of his experience of being still with God and the frustration and the joy of that. So I found that really significant in my understanding of what it means to wait on God, because prayer is not just a list of things that we bring to God.

And it's not even then just a time of us sitting down and asking God to download into our heads. It's actually because our relationship with God is actually a relationship. Prayer is being still in that relationship and is giving God the time of day. And it's giving God the priority. So yeah, I would say it's the equivalent to this. You're trying to build a relationship with someone. If for example, you have a partner and you only ever interact with them to give them a shopping list, to go out and get, that's going to be pretty destructive to the relationship pretty fast, but that's actually a lot of what prayer is like, is God here's my shopping list. Okay, bye. Or to read their shopping list, but actually when you sit with someone and sometimes when you sit in silence, that's the most profound time of just kind of getting really comfortable.

So I think it's that sense of sitting with God. And actually my church is doing a series on contemplative prayer. And one of the things that was raised was this idea that we start with focusing on ourselves when we sit still to contemplate and all the things that are rushing around in our heads. And over time, we begin to focus on ourselves and God and so how we're relating to God. And then as we give it more time and practice we begin to focus on God and ourselves, so we become secondary, and then kind of just on God. And then, yeah, I think one of the other things that one of our lectures that [Year in the Son] said, that I found really impactful was the idea that often we treat, avoiding sinners, looking at all the things that we're trying to not do and not think about, but actually when you feel your head withdrawing, like it's just harder for other stuff to fit. And so it's not so much about like running away from everything it's about like turning towards others thing and better things and things that give life and define us. So I think contemplative prayer is important because I find it energizing but also because, most importantly, it's a sacrifice to God and it use that time to God and it builds that relationship. But it's also really not easy. So that's the big think to kind of come back to, is that sometimes the things that are most important aren't easy and don't feel profound, like Henri Nouwen talks about. You could be boring and frustrating and I often find that. But that's okay, that's still us being before God and giving him that time and sometimes it's really beautiful and life giving and redefining.

Mitch: Do you have a BuzzFeed listicle of top 3 tips for people wanting to start on a contemplative prayer journey?

Miriam: Yeah, totally. I get really excited about this. I think I scared my small group because they were like, ‘Oh what's helpful?’ and I'm like, ‘guys, guys I've got this’. That's not to say that I have contemplative spirituality because to be honest I'm shocking at it. But things that are helpful… I would say are time. So, making the time for it but sometimes time can be hard to make, and can be really intimidating, so I would say starting with like 10 minutes is a really good thing. So I would set my alarm for 10 minutes so that I wasn't constantly checking the clock to see if I was done. And that allowed me to kind of center and focus. And I would also set an alarm to remind me to do it. And I don't always do a very good job of that, cause you can hit snooze plenty of times, but it is the thing that says, hold on, this is important. I think having something physical to look at or focus on is helpful. So I have a holding cross, which is just like a little cross that fits in the palm of your hand. I'm a really tactile person. So having something to just kind of like hold and think about holding is helpful. Or a candle, I light a candle, just kind of watch that for 10 minutes. But the aim here is not to empty your mind. This is not a mindfulness exercise. This is not a wellbeing exercise. It's kind of, not even about you or me. It's actually about filling your mind with, like, who is Jesus. So sometimes that's focusing on a verse or two and reflecting on that but often it’s just kind of sitting with the Jesus that we know about and getting to know him. 

Read a few books by a few contemplatives because they usually are good writers because they're like super self-reflective. So they're good at capturing what's going on inside. So I would say Henri Nouwen obviously is a favorite but Richard Foster does some of this stuff as well. And Teresa of Avila, spelled A V I L A, so she was like, I think it was in the 1500s, so her writing style is a little harder, but just a few... Start with Henri Nouwen, don't worry about the rest. They're not the Bible, so you don't have to agree with everything they say, but it's something that kind of draws a good picture of what the aim is. 

Mitch: That's good. Thank you. What about your poetry? How does that fit into your life of faith? 

Miriam: Well, I think a few different ways. I have a journal and a poetry writing notebook and they are separate things. And that's intentional because when I was about 12, 13, my mom introduced me to stream of consciousness writing and I was like, I'd never understood what, I'd always tried to like write a diary and be like, today we did this and then I get bored because you know, no one's life is interesting all the time. There's only so many times to be like, “had lunch”. I also just didn't have the discipline to write it every day. And I found it stressful to have something to try and work on every day. But stream of consciousness just gives you space to sit, write down, whatever comes into your head. And you just don't stop writing and you write, even if you can't think of what to write about, you just write about not being able to think about what to write about.

I think that really, I don't want to say released me into because it sounds really cheesy, but it released me into knowing how to write a journal and to just kind of pursue my thoughts and to talk to God, to like look at myself and to be more self-reflective. So I think that was really significant when I was younger. And I grew up around poetry and around good writing. And my family just really loves reading and writing, but I didn't really write much poetry. I tried short stories and I just was not good at them. I'm still really not. So I kind of just didn't do a lot of writing, even though I hung out with a lot of writing people. And then when we did [Year in the Son] together, one of our lectures was really into spoken word poetry. And so I started to kind of explore that world and was really blown away by this like poetry that didn't have to be super tight and structured and that I could write. And that actually I was kind of good at. But after a while, like I love spoken word poetry but there's different styles within it. So like slam poetry is really forceful and strong and often really about justice and passion. And I love that and I find it really tiring to do all the time. So then I kind of, my poetry style kind of started with that focus and then kind of has moved to be a bit more reflective. And I think in line to how I see the world and in line with the contemplative stuff. So I think writing helps me to relate to God and to connect with God because it makes me take that time with myself and I think poetry. I get really passionate… One of the things I'm really passionate about in general is reframing the way that people see the world. Even if it's just by a few degrees, because I feel like often we get the wrong answers because we're kind of asking the wrong questions. And actually if we just shifted a few things, maybe we'd have different questions and better answers. And poetry, I feel like is a way that I can do that. So for me, poetry is something that I love and delight in. And I love playing with words and I think they're the best thing, but it's also a tool for that sense of, “how do I reframe the world?” What does it mean to like, to ask better questions and to look for God where we are? So that kind of ties in with one of the other contemplative kind of Church fathers, this guy called Ignatius, and he started this whole kind of series of ways of reflecting on God. And one of them is called the Examen. And at the end of the day, you look back on, where was God during the day and when did I turn away from God? And when did I tend towards him? So I guess that's kind of what I'm excited about in poetry, is actually looking for where has God in the day and in my world and where might he be in the unexpected areas. And then that can reveal to me that actually he's everywhere, not that he is everything just to be very clear, not growing with pantheism, that's different, but that actually, that the reflection of God in a lot of things. So I think I get excited about metaphor because it helps to reframe and ask different questions about like, oh, if we looked at it this different way, would we say that God is actually journeying there with us as well? So I think it ties pretty closely with my sense of spirituality and faith and meeting God. And with my sense of purpose as well, like how can I be useful? And what are the gifts God has given me and how do I honour God and honour those gifts by using them well.  And so, yeah, I want to write poetry that helps people to think a bit differently about the world and hopefully to see where God is in it and where he's walking alongside them. 

Mitch: So you've got an example of a poem you're prepared to share with us?

Miriam: Yeah, I wanted to share a piece that I wrote. My church actually was doing a series on Esther. And my minister asked if I could write something on Esther. So I preached, I did a sermon on Esther. And then I did this poem on kind of a different part of Esther. So it's called Marble Tiles and it goes like this. 

She didn't start out brave. If I die, I die.

So now she walks marble floors running under fearful feet, much louder than she would desire. Slap, slap slap, the sound of sandal souls on cold stone tiles, echoing inescapably in grand, excessive, extortionate throne room and pillared aisles.

If I die, I die.

Does she want to hide behind a pillar that day? Walking heartbeat, blocking throat, towards a distant king.

She didn't start out brave. If I die, I die.

Did she walk lightly? Try to shrink the weight of her existence in fresh or yearn to fall through the floor. Away from indolent stare. Did she keep her eyes lowered, tracing the lines on cool stone tiles, anything to avoid the fearsome face of the king who holds her life in his gaze.

She didn't start out brave. If I die, I die.

I see her in my mind’s eye, Hadassah, queen in a world of rapid volatility, a Trumpish king holding her mortality, yet walking tall with dignity. She is carried by the silent prayers of those she could have abandoned. 

She didn't start out brave. If I die, I die. 

Now, she made a choice that day, not between certain or almost certain death—that's hardly a choice at all—and her motives fear or sacrifice, some combination we'll never know for sure, but the one choice she did have, the move from fear to courage, to choose the strangeness of trust, no matter what came with each fearful, brave, step forward. 

And what of us? Do we occasionally walk the throne room in trepidation with heart in throat, wishing for silence, invisibility, dreading to meet the eyes of our King in his glory. I know sometimes I do, but then I see from the corner of my lowered eye, another pair of sandaled feet walking next to mine. “Forget me not,” gently murmurs the divine, “I was not crucified for you to enter this throne room terrified,” but kind, he waits with me behind the pillar in the outer court, on those days when I'm shy of the throne room walk.

Do we perhaps forget sometimes that our King is not Xerxes? We don't have to start out brave, but with our King, we live, we die. And in his life we live again. We can in time learn to dance and smile in the throne rooms—ringing, singing marble tiles.

Mitch: That's awesome. That's really cool. I like that a lot. Thanks for sharing it with us. I know this from a bit of experience as well. For artists community is a really important thing. And I think that also reflects the life of faith, community is a really important thing. Places that we come together to do these things together. Can you tell us a bit about your soiree events and your artistic communities that I know you're a really big part of fostering?

Miriam: Yeah. Well I get really excited about these. But I want to give you a bit of backstory behind them first. So a few years ago I had a birthday party and I thought, oh, you know, I'd actually heard someone else doing this. I thought this be a fun idea, just to have a little open mic at the birthday party. And so people could come and share a poem and it could be kind of a poem for me, or poem for others or perform a song or whatever else they wanted to do. And wouldn't that be fun? So I had this lovely birthday party and people shared some really beautiful poetry and encouraging pieces. And I had one friend who or several friends there who were Christian and had come along, one friend in particular, who's very talented musically, but was quite self-conscious about performing. And she, at the last minute had decided she didn't want to perform, which is fine. And I was like, oh, that's okay, you know. And we had our party and then most people left and then it ended up being like myself and maybe four other friends. And so I said to this girl, I said no one else is here, do you want me to get my guitar down and you can have a go if you want. So I went and got my guitar and I was like, look, I'll play and you can see just how bad it's okay to be. Because I'm really not like a great guitar player. So I played a few songs, she played a few songs and I had my sound board because like I said, really not a great guitar player, can't remember chords even for songs I’ve played like gazillion times. And so I was flicking through the song book and we came to the song... I'm trying to remember the name. This is starting to be problematic. It Is Well With My Soul. There it is. I just had to go through the chorus in my head. So we came to that song and I think we played it, or someone was talking about how beautiful it was. And I said, do you know the story behind this? It's amazing. Like, you know, that's the crazy bit. And I had Christian and non-Christian friends in that little group and one of the Christian friends knew the story, but like none of the others knew, Christian and non-Christian. I was like, well, can I tell you the story, this guy who was this really wealthy businessmen and sent his family... He was going to go on holiday to Europe with his family, he lived in America. And at the last minute a business meeting came up that he had to attend. So he set them on ahead and he was going to join later. And while they're sailing across, the ship sank, and one of his children survived, but his wife and the other children drowned.

And so he got on a ship to sail across to Europe, to reunite with his one remaining daughter. And while his ship was sailing through the same part of the ocean that their ship would have gone down in, he wrote this song, It Is Well With My Soul. It was just, it's like, when you read the lyrics with that in mind, and he talked about the ocean, it's just groundbreaking. Like it's really intense. And so we then kind of started talking about that song and about like, what does it mean that your soul can be satisfied in God, even in the midst of, like grieving and that both the grief and comfort in God can be okay together. And what does that look like?

And I had a moment where we were kind of sitting in my kitchen having this discussion, and I thought, I love this, like we're in the kitchen, we're talking about art, creativity and faith and God and grief and identity and meaning and all these things together. And it's not forced. And wouldn’t it be, like isn't this what houses are meant to be for? Like, I would love if my house could have this happen all the time. 

So then I sort of started to think about it a bit more and though what if we actually created a bit of structured space for that to happen, or a bit of intentional space for that to happen. So I had a chat with my housemates and said, you know, you on board. And really over planned and over thought, I got really nervous, really got into my head. It's really unhelpful, my housemate, bless her, it was just like, all right, look, I can see you're just stressed out of your mind. So what do you need me to do, so you can calm down a bit? And it was very helpful, but she also kind of just talked to me about like, actually God does his thing in his way. We can't control it. We can't force conversations.  What was natural and beautiful about that conversation in the kitchen is that it was so natural and comfortable and, you know, and so trying to force it doesn't make a lot of sense. So what does it mean to create space and then just kind of see what happens and how it will be done. So that was really helpful to have those kinds of process things with her. And then, yeah, I had a few key people who were praying for it and a few key people are helping me set up, and we started the soirees. 

So they run four times a year. They run out of someone's living room and it's been mine and it's been my parents sometimes, I now run them with one called Sarah Raiter. And so we do them together. And so it's been at her house the last few times because I now live in a studio apartment and there's a limit to how many people you can fit in there—like I'm willing to try, but… So we run them four times a year. We pick a slightly different theme for each one, but the basic idea is you bring your art—complete, incomplete—I spend a bit of time talking about like, we're not aiming for perfection. We're aiming for like excellence, but even if it's not an excellence, just bring something and share it like this is, you know, if you have a perfect piece of art, don't come here because I'm not sure that it exists. So if you think you have it… So just creating that space with a bit of a theme and then in the upcoming one, we're going to have someone else helping with MC as well. We'll MC it ideally in a way that kind of, I get really passionate about holding space. So creating an event that enables space for people to talk, but also to breathe, to sit in silence, and to have conversation and to move from kind of different space to space or experience to experience. So it's one of the things I love about it, is not only are the artistic contributions amazing. And we have had poetry and we've had songs and we've had ukulele, we've had juggling. We've had someone baked, it was delicious, Madeline's biscuits, they're good. That's an artistic expression. We had one of them, the theme was symphony. And so that's like a combination of different things. And often it's a combination of music, but it doesn't have to be. So one of the attendees brought a book and made donuts and we ate the donuts as she read from the book. So it was a symphony. And then we have people who have never performed before and are really nervous and come and share something and it’s groundbreaking. So I love those spaces, but I also then love like the experience of how can I like transition from this performance to this performance and how do I take it from like really joyful to like really somber and contemplative, or sometimes just plain depressing and there's space for that stuff as well. And that's important. And how do you help people to go from one to the next, without whiplash.

So I love all of that. I love that it creates a safe space for artists. I love that it feels missional. I love that it like stretches me as an event planner and an MC. And it also stretches me as an artist. Interestingly I wanted them originally. I was like, yeah, we should really be as externally, missional as possible. And so everyone bring your non-Christian friends. And that was really good. And we had, you know, non-Christian friends coming, but also like artists kept coming, which is good, but like Christian artists kept coming. And then they kept coming back and then it kept becoming like a safe space for them. And that was kind of annoying me. And then God's like, maybe you just need to calm down and see that this is actually maybe what it was for as well. And that actually, there's a lot of value in that too. 

And what does it mean to love the church and to love outside the church, but both need to be held gently? Yeah, so that's what the soirees are. So this upcoming one is going to be digital or virtual because obviously we can't go to different people's houses. So yeah, I'm making plans to kind of have a virtual soiree set up. So if you or any of your listeners want to attend, you don't even have to leave your living room, just make sure you're wearing clothes. Cause the webcams will be on. That's soirees. And I get really excited about them. And then sometimes they're really tiring and then I think, oh, maybe we should just wind them up. And then there's like always at the end of those nights, there's always one person who comes and says, this is really important. I'm coming back. And I was like, right, okay, not ready to wind up yet. So, oh, people still need this, okay, good, good. And that's a good reminder for me that it's not about like how I'm feeling about them. It's actually what they are for other people. 

Mitch: As we sort of come to the end of our time… It's awesome hearing what you're passionate about and that's so obvious through the ways that you're talking about all these different things, but just sort of wanting to give you another really broad question to finish if we start broad, finish broad…

Miriam: That’s very Biblical, follow the pattern of the Psalms.

Mitch: [Laughs] …and you made it very clear that you are not good at small talking, so this will hopefully work well for you. What does the Church need to hear? What does the Church need to be thinking about in this moment? As broad as we can go. 

Miriam: I think, I’m resistant to the question. I think the temptation for creatives and artists in particular, but for a lot of people, and I think a lot of people of our generation is to think of ourselves as the new, whatever, X, Y, Z. We are the new Church, we are the new artists. I don't think that that is honoring of God's work for the past 2000 years and of the millions of people who seek him and big and small ways. So I don't think I have like a word for the Church that the whole Church needs to hear. I think, keep seeking Jesus and keep loving each other. And like, that's probably all I would say. I think there's lots around the arts in the church that is important, but even that, like, we are not the most important people in the Church, artists like to think we are sometimes. And that's sometimes because we haven't…

Mitch: What are you talking about, yes we are. [Laughs]

Miriam: [Laughs] And that sometimes, because artists have really felt unheard and that's really good to name. And artists have often not felt loved in Church or seen in the Church or honoured for their gifts in the Church. It's good to name that, that's not okay, that God has given a variety of gifts and all of those can be used to glorify him. But I think that's the think, the point is not the art or the gifts, the point is how are we glorifying God and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves? And so that means loving both our neighbor and ourselves and loving God. I think that's all I would say.

Mitch: If people want to hear more from you or connect with you, where can they find you on the internet?

Miriam: Yeah. Cool. Well, the Internet is a perfect place to find people now isn't it? Can't find people in person. Stay away, but don't, but do a little. So I have a Facebook that is just for my writing poetry stuff. So that's called MiriamDaleWritings, all one word. And you can search that. I have an Insta so @mimpoet, and that's all one word. And then I have a YouTube channel, which is YouTube/ a whole bunch of letters because I don't have enough subscribers to make it a thing yet. So if you just search Miriam Dale on YouTube or Armchair Poet but I think Mitch you'll have the links as well.

Mitch: All the links will be in the show notes.

Miriam: So I'm exploring a new thing on YouTube, which I'm still sort of trying to figure out, which is what does it mean to read poetry, perform poetry, but not slam poetry online, because there's a lot of slam poetry stuff online, but this is a little different. So that's called the Armchair Poet cause I sit in an armchair and I'm a poet. So yeah, those are places to find me. And I also have two books that I think you'll have linked to as well. One is called The Common Condition and that's based on, the title is taken from a quote by Henri Nouwen. And one is called The Weight of Hope and they are both available for purchase and you can contact me through any of those avenues to ask for a copy.

Mitch: Thanks so much for spending time with us today. Loved chatting with you and loved hearing your thoughts on all these different things. Yeah. Thanks so much for being willing to share. 

Miriam: My absolute pleasure, thanks for having me.

--

Miriam's books, The Weight of Hope and The Common Condition, are available at https://miriamdalewritings.com/books

Connect with Miriam at https://miriamdalewritings.com
Or on Facebook @MiriamDaleWritings
Or on Instagram @MimPoet
Or on YouTube as the Armchair Poet, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCA_uGSzoOMzGg0RJ3dZLIg

This interview is a transcript of an episode of Mission Unplugged. You can listen to the interview on Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Transcription by MissTranscript

Privacy policy