Sleeper Carol

It’s a sleeper carol. When I tune the radio for my yearly fix of holiday tunes, I rarely catch it. I have, however, survived a dozen renderings of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Since we’ve now realized men shouldn’t sexually prey on women, could we stop including in our holiday festivities a song that celebrates a man liquoring up a woman to seduce her ? Please? Pretty please?

Conversely, my sleeper carol lauds a woman who, through her own choice, “bore sweet Jesus Christ/To do poor sinners good.”

“The Holly and the Ivy” employs traditional English holiday decor as a metaphor (I love metaphor!) to celebrate Mary’s role in Jesus’ birth. The lyricist compares the holly’s bearings of blossom, berry, prickle, bark with the holy person Mary bore. But the song doesn’t stop there. We are led through the birth its pressing need.

The lyricist, or lyricists (unknown) begin with the holly flower—its whiteness depicting Mary’s purity. Mary’s was a purity of purpose: an single-minded allegiance to God so staunch she was prepared to endure a life-long reputation as Nazareth’s scarlet woman. And that was if she didn’t get stoned to death first.

The holly berry portrays Jesus’ shed blood and its leaves recall the thorns that speared His brow. A holly bush grows in our yard, and its leaves have drawn my blood more than once. Holly leaves are unusually thick and rigid, so its pointed edges pierce the skin like thorns. Last, in the holly branch we taste the bitter gall offered to Jesus as He hung, dying, between heaven and earth. I don’t know who decided to munch on a holly branch and, thus, discovered its foul taste, but I hope there weren’t additional unpleasant after effects.

But here’s the thing about the sorrowful lyrics: they’ve woven into the merriest of tunes. It’s as if the composers wanted us to know, in the singing of “The Holly and the Ivy” that Mary’s sacrifice and Jesus’ suffering are a prelude. That the minor chords will resolve in a glorious culmination. That happened was terrible. And necessary. But it’s not all there is. We’re invited to a rollicking party—date TBA. But Jesus and Mary are hosting and our names are written on the guest list.

So instead of cheery tunes about sketchy seductions, let’s tune up “The Holly and the Ivy” and belt out its lyrics. As I feel sure the lyricists and composers hoped we would do.

Follow this link to enjoy a beautiful rendering of “The Holly and the Ivy”:

Celebration Times, Come On!

DancingAt a creativity camp in days gone by, our campers created original films. We explored shot angles, storylines, and pacing. One group wrapped their film with an animated rendering of Kool and the Gang’s song, “Celebration.” Except, instead of the original lyrics: “Celebrate good times, come on,” our gang belted out, “Celebration Times: come on!” Those words, sung with gusto, have become legend at our nonprofit, A Spacious Place.

We’ve entered Celebration Times. On the Christian calendar, Easter Sunday opens the door onto the Easter season, which culminates fifty days later on Pentecost Sunday. But whatever your faith walk, spring is surely a season of celebration: tissue-paper pinks of the redbud trees; vibrant reds and yellows of the Indian blankets; deep, serene blues and purples of the bluebonnets.

And our current world climate makes celebration times especially needful. In the words of Abraham Lincoln: “With the fearful strain that is on me day and night, if I did not laugh I should die.” The joy of the Lord is, indeed, our strength.

How we rock our Celebration Time is as individual as our souls. Below are some possibilities:

  1. Put on some dance music and let loose.
  2. Read a book just for fun (that’s right—the one you’ve been eyeing in the grocery store).
  3. Call someone you’ve not spoken to in a while. Laugh together over good memories.
  4. Create something that delights you (you knew that one was coming).
  5. Cook a feast, invite some friends, and watch Chocolat or Babette’s Feast.
  6. Dress up—even if it means wearing that new stunner to the grocery store (the produce section deserves our respect).
  7. Go on, belt it out! Studies show that singing eases depression.

So…Cut loose.



It’s Celebration Time—come on!

Holy Week Spiritual Practice: Releasing Idols

WGWA Cover

When God Walks Away: A Dark Night Companion

Each day of Holy Week, I will post spiritual practices from my book, When God Walks Away. The book (pictured) likens the dark-night journey to the events of Holy Week. Since engaging with art can be a spiritual practice, you will notice references to music, films, and visual artworks in addition to more traditional forms of spiritual discipline.

I hope these practices provide nourishing soul food as you make your way toward Easter.


Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: Who in this book did not have cause to rethink themselves? Austen, in her lighthearted but sharply satirical style, invites us to think again about what—and whom—we idolize. (The BBC miniseries starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth is an excellent adaptation of Austen’s book.)

Sabbath by Wayne Muller: A needful read for anyone (like me!) who equates work for God with love of God. Its short chapters and hands-on spiritual practices make a pragmatic as well as a thoughtful read.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: Hmmmm…what would you say Scrooge idolized? And if he were sent, Marley-style, to my chambers, what word would he have for me?


Footloose directed by Herbert Ross, Chocolat directed by Lasse Hallström, and Babette’s Feast directed by Gabriel Axel: Each film begins with the expected—a status-quo churchology embodied in Footloose’s grieving pastor and father, in Chocolat’s repressive mayor, and, in Babette’s Feast’s sisters who divinized their stern father. Ironically, the “pagans” in the films (Ren, Vianne and Babette) free the “professional Christians” to enjoy the Christ adventure.

Endurance Exercises:

Basket List: Turn a journal (a spiral notebook will serve) into your wonderings basket. Write down your theological questions and ask Jesus’ guidance about them. In a year’s time, look back on your “Basket List” and see where your wonderings led.

Life Mission Statement: After a season of discernment (see the “Ignatian Discernment Exercise” in Appendix K), craft a statement for your life that defines your highest value and how you wish to live daily in the world. Let the statement be less about doing and more about being.


“Things We Leave Behind” by Michael Card: What the mystics call detachment, Card describes through gospel stories. Card’s real-world theology calls it straight: it costs to let go, and freedom is worth any cost.

“Hi-De-Ho That Old Sweet Roll” by Blood, Sweat & Tears: Who can resist heaven described as “an old sweet roll”? The song explores the cost of living too much for the adoration of others and a freeing confrontation with the devil.

“Desperado” by the Eagles: Here’s some old West, card playin’ spirituality set to a tune that weeps. Is it a coincidence that desperado sounds so much like desperate?

Visual Art:

Milo of Crotona by Pierre Puget*: A mesmerizing, disturbing statue about a troubling, terrifying myth. Milo was so taken with his own strength that he tried to uproot a tree bare-handed, got his arm stuck, and was eaten alive by a lion. Let us hope our idols do not lead us to such desperate ends (bad pun intended!).

* Find this artwork in your neighborhood or Internet library.

Taking It Into the Streets


The Church birthed in the fiery winds of Pentecost was deeply human and deeply compelled. Its feet itched to get out on the streets and do love; its tongues ached to speak love in every language imaginable. But soon the mammoth Christendom machine rolled into history and its clanging gears and noisy pistons nearly drowned out the human voice of the Church. The goal of the Christendom machine was to keep itself running and it would do anything—including violating human souls—to keep the engines buzzing. Those it wounded most deeply were the open and searching among us: the children, the artists, the prophets. Yet despite all its efforts, the Christendom machine is winding down, its weathered and rusted gears don’t make the kind of impressive noise they once churned out. And in the deepening silence we begin to hear again the sounds of the Church: its feet scurrying into the streets to do love and its tongues speaking love in every language imaginable.*


*With this piece I introduce my Pentecost series, “Taking It Into the Streets.” We will ponder together the meaning and mission of Church from its Pentecost birth to today.



Why Parable? Part 2

The Clown and the Chosen Book CoverWhy? Well, stories tell us there’s more. They promise, just around the corner, a reality bigger, more magical, than the one we tell ourselves is all there is. Stories offer a peek through the keyhole into possibilities for which we yearn. Could we really hope for that? Think of a story that has magicked you; would you say its characters, its setting, its plot are not ‘real’ in some sense? If something in us did not hope for more, stories would not possess for us such magic. Across time, across continents, people have crafted, told, and listened, wide-eyed to stories. There must be a reason.

Great stories are timeless: in them, we connect to persons across the centuries and across the globe. We sit, entranced, before stories from Kenya, China, Mexico, Italy, from the time of wandering tribes, the age of knights, the eras of the World Wars. These stories reach us because they are our stories. They help us know ourselves and, more than that, to know our connection to a much larger story. We journey, imperiled, toward home in the Odyssey, we are betrayer and betrayed with Cain and Abel, we are the seeking and the sought in “The Lost Sheep.”

Great stories are portable: we take them in and carry them with us to school, work, out to play or to the garden, around our homes, and even into our dreams. Jesus’ parables, composed only of a few sentences—if that many—are handily portable. They’re right there in our pockets just when we need them.

Great stories inspire. And how incredible this is when that story is a pocket-sized parable. And yet Jesus’ parable inspired paintings and sculptures depicting The Good Shepherd from catacombs time till today, a parable inspired Rembrandt’s homey yet luminous painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, and that painting inspired Henri Nouwen’s book of the same name. Jesus’ parables inspired Ken Medema’s tongue-in-cheek song, “Mr. Simon,” and his musical, The Storytelling Man. There must be a reason. Parables provoke us, irritate us like a grain of sand in an oyster, until we wrestle out our own creations from what Jesus planted.

With the Clown series, I hope to celebrate the timeliness and the timelessness, the accessibility and the awesomeness of Jesus’ parables. I’ll be honest: the image of a story-spinning clown whose stories appear within the circle created by juggling balls was given to me, I don’t even recall when. Only later did I discover that the Greek word meaning to throw is a close cousin to the word meaning a parable or a comparison. I love it what that sort of thing happens! God being puckish! So let’s set the juggling balls spinning and step inside a parable. But watch out—there’s life-altering magic in there.

O Come Let Us Adore Him

O Come Let Us Adore Him

Christmas Day Piece

Each day of Advent—and culminating today on Christmas—in honor of Word becoming flesh, I sought, with art-making tools, to flesh out a word of the season. No conclusions, though. These interactive “art samples” are more about raising questions than providing answers.

So come, find what is worthy for you to adore–and a very Merry Christmas to one and all!


Thanks for dropping by. On this site I’ll describe why I do what I do: which is to make art out of letters & punctuation marks—as well as out of glue & blobs of color. And I’ll hope to hear back from you, because art making is a two-person dance.

The site offers two sections: written art and visual art. Take a look and, if you like, send me a response. Want to learn more? Follow the links to our website.

Here’s to the Dance!

Kaye P. McKee

Mystic's View