Hunger for Wholeness: Composting Religion and Creative Spirituality with Brie Stoner (Part 1)
Ilia Delio interviews multi-talented musician Brie Stoner about “composting” old forms of religious experience, and how creativity can lead us into renewed forms of spirituality. They discuss relational wholeness, eros, and the body’s role in spiritual life. Plus, enjoy a few small peaks into Brie’s musical textures throughout this episode.
ABOUT BRIE STONER
“We need to free the monstrous within us. It should be seen not as a problem, but as an opportunity.”
Brie Stoner is a musician and songwriter who pulls from her multilingual and multicultural background in her indie dream-rock music. As a musician, Stoner has worked with producers Jay Bennett (Wilco) and most recently David Vandervelde (Father John Misty, Secretly Canadian) who produced her new album. Stoner’s music has also been featured by Victoria Secret, Orange is The New Black, The Affair, as well as many other international TV and film campaigns. As a writer, her work has been featured in “The Call To Unite: Voices of hope and Awakening,” a book featuring inspirational voices such as Oprah, Tim Shriver, Elizabeth Gilbert and many more. Brie was a co-host to the “Another Name for Every Thing” podcast which garnered millions of downloads, before launching her own podcast “Unknowing” in 2021, exploring the path of creative possibility in conversation with artists, authors, and activists. Her new single “Loved Me Like a Weapon” is out now! Her new album ME VEO will be out in late 2023.Support the show
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Robert: Welcome to Hunger for Wholeness. I'm your host, Robert Nicastro. In this episode, we talk with the multi-talented musician, artist, writer, and podcast host, Brie Stoner. In part one of this encouraging conversation, Brie and Ilia discuss composting old forms of religious experience and how creativity can lead us into renewed forms of spirituality. Throughout this episode and the next, we hope you enjoy a few small peaks into Brie's musical talent and textures.
Ilia: Brie, it's great to have you actually on our Hunger for Wholeness podcast. You have been a significant voice I think for millennials and for our time in terms of spirituality in the 21st century. Early on, you were a proponent of Teilhard de Chardin's vision, and I was just wondering where you are today on the vision of Teilhard. Do you think it has merit for our time? Do you think Teilhard is still a prophetic voice that we need to listen to?
Brie: Yeah, absolutely. Well, first, Ilia, thank you for having me. It's a total honor to be in conversation with you on any occasion, whether it's just the two of us speaking privately or having a recorded conversation, I always feel enliven by what we discuss. So to that end, I guess I would say, yeah, I do believe that Teilhard's vision has had a vital role in my life in helping to transition my belief system from one that was static and somewhat abstract, that was oriented towards certain, a sense of belief into one that is embodied and dynamic and fully about enlivenment. So I think that is one of his greatest gifts and contributions is converting, transforming. I might even say metabolizing, or as I like to say a lot more these days, composting Christianity into creativity, which is really where my heart is at these days and my focus.
Ilia: I love that term actually, "Composting Christianity into creativity." That is fantastic, Brie. And that's something I've always admired about you. You're extremely insightful and you have a very creative mind, which is very much needed today. In light of that and the beauty of Teilhard's vision, I think one thing we could say at the center and certainly that this podcast is aiming toward, is getting beyond just an intellectual discussion of science and religion. Like, "Oh, they're not in conflict anymore." "Oh, right. Great." The big conversation seems to be, "Wow, they're not in conflict."
It's much more than that. It's much more along the lines of what I think is more aptly described as relational holism. God and world, mind and matter, spirit and body; these are inseparable realities. And therefore, how do we begin to see the whole, and the whole in its various dimensions; whether it's dimensions of science and religion, or body and spirit, or God and world; however, that is. Like you said, we're coming out of a static world and now into a much more dynamic. And even the word interconnected, I think we have to add what you added here; creative, creatively interconnected. So it's an open system. What do you think are the most pressing areas for spirituality today?
Brie: Wow. I don't know that I'm qualified to answer the question, but I'll...
Ilia: In your own experience. You're a graduate of living school, I think one of the first classes from the living school and you've been deeply involved in these questions for quite some time.
Brie: Well, I can definitely speak from my experience, as you say, and offer what feels true to me in this moment, which is, again, leaning on these words; metabolizing and composting. I believe that the time of creating these grand esoteric maps and architectures, I believe that time has come to an end. And not in an end as in, "Oh, that no longer serves us." But as in it has served its purpose if we are willing to then digest these maps or these ideas, or these architectures, these systems into action. I was thinking about our conversation today and I was thinking about like, "How would I even describe where I'm at?" I get asked a lot like, "Are you still Christian? Are you contemplative? Are you mystical? What are you?"
And I almost feel like what's happening is that people want to pin an identity on you like trying to pin the wings down of a butterfly. And to me, it's as if I have actually—and I know this is shocking and somewhat almost heretical. I have actually believed the teachings of Jesus and have digested them this idea of, "Take, eat, this is my body, this is my blood," and now it's in me. So now I'm about the business of living my spirituality. I don't need to keep talking about it anymore. I don't need to theorize about it nor do I need to utilize these belief systems as a form of systems of belonging. I believe the same things you do. I don't believe the same things you do. So I wonder if we're not in a critical transition with our world religions in which there is this hunger for wholeness, as you say, and a hunger to metabolize into creativity, rather than utilize these maps as points of an architecture that are going to help us decide or discern whether we're all in the same camp or not, whether you belong or you don't.
I have a story that I like to tell where I say leaning on the imagery of the Chronicles of Narnia—I'm sure you're familiar with Narnia, hopefully your audience is too. This magical land that children access through this wardrobe. And lately I've been talking about religion as the maps that get you to the wardrobe. So some maps say, "You got to take the stairs by the entryway." Other maps are like, "No, no, no, no, it's the back stairs. And then you take a left at that hall, then you turn right on the third door." Either way, the point is to get you to the wardrobe. Now, out in front of the wardrobe, here we all are. We're like camped out all our different factions, and we look at the wardrobe and depending on the perspective that we have, we think, "Ah, no, the wardrobe looks to be about six feet tall. To me, it looks green." And on the other corner there's a belief system. It says, "Now it looks a little bluish to me."
When the whole point of getting us to the wardrobe is that we might be as courageous as those who have gone before us, those who told us about Narnia in the first place, and actually freaking get in the wardrobe. So that's kind of my observation, is that the time for camping out and talking about how to get to the wardrobe, I think that time needs to transition into those who are courageous enough and willing enough to actually embody the teachings of those who have come before us by walking into the unknown with creative courage and confidence, and then describing that journey for others in a way that's practical and not so precious and focused on how you can offer your whole life, your whole heart, all of your creativity to this adventure of life.
Ilia: Yeah. I really like what you're saying here, Brie, and I think it's so consonant with some of even the philosophical shifts that we're engaged in. I think theological shifts are occurring, but a little bit slower than the philosophical ones. But there's a few things that I'd like to just unpack here. One, I think you're absolutely right. The guy in the sky God, the sky God, the big guy up there; that God has been shifting, I think since the 20th century, but shifting slowly because we've been very afraid to lose this sky God, because it's like everything—We had this dome above us and it was the illusion of security and comfort. And all we have to do is just focus our attention on the sky God and all will be well, because God's going to take care of everything. God knows who's going to be in, who's out, who's—this type of thing.
But I think we shifted first, it's really interesting and would be an interesting study across the domains of art, philosophy, culture. And I really think it just follows the shifts in physics, nature itself; from substance physics or Newtonian physics of little atoms and billiard balls to quantum physics, to a world of energy. And wherever there's energy, there is unpredictability. I mean, energy is energy. You can't really say where everything is at any one point in time. It's constantly moving, yet very interconnected. And I think that that energy shifts in physics plays out in culture. We call it deconstruction, we call it post modernity. It plays out in philosophy as we move from being to this kind of new materialist philosophy where boundaries are transgressed, where we can talk about the plasticity of being—Judith Butler's gender troubles.
It's about performativity. Therefore at the same time as we started composting our gardens and kind of discovering God in new ways, that God fell from the sky and actually became flesh. So maybe we're in the beginning. We're just at the beginning of incarnation, not at the end of it. So I really like what you're saying and I think it's so continent with what Jesus was about, and that is just living into the future and there's no right answer. I just gave a top this weekend to some sisters all over the country actually, and it was about the fact of relational holism. I think it's not about there's one whole, there's one whole that you have to discover and it got to be the right whole.
It's about you becoming whole, like your wholeness is the whole of the world. That's the whole point. It doesn't really matter. That's what I'm beginning to see more and more. I actually don't think Jesus would be that alarmed with various paths to wholeness. Jesus didn't say to the Samaritan woman, "Oh, you're not Jewish. I'm definitely not giving you water. Go see a doctor." He met people where they are. And in that sense, I actually think this is a renewal time for Franciscan spirituality because although we've so heavily monasticized Francis and brought him into someone akin to Play-Doh, Francis was actually very creative. He was the dreamer, the guy who was like loosey-goosey and people thought he was a bit foolish.
And all that we're talking about here is, if we talk about life in the spirit, like charismatic as the big eighties or nineties thing, well, we're talking about life and energy, like energy of life. That's what we're talking; like divine energy, human energy, overflowing energy, energy that connects, energy that displaces, energy that transgresses. And what we're saying is that energy is creative and creativity may be the whole of what the whole is about. It doesn't have to be an arrival at the whole. The whole is the optimization of creative imagination for the fullness of life.
Brie: That's exactly what I think has become whole in me in the last several years, is that very truth. But I also think you bring up another really vital transition that I think we're in, which is the sky God dying or descending or being composted. I like to think of it as the rhizomatic God. It's like, "Yes, that's now more of a network as opposed to a hierarchy." As you know, I'm a huge fan of Beatrice Bruteau, who was a huge student of Teilhard. I really like how she categorizes the transition into this wholeness of being. She talks about it as moving from a dominant or domination paradigm of power over into a communion paradigm of power with. This is really the basis for what I am most excited about talking about these days, whether it's in classes or in my music, or in a book I'm currently writing; is talking about that shift.
Because that shift isn't just happening at a large scale paradigm. That's a shift that occurs within us as we learn to step into unknowing as the gate of letting go of what has been to make room for what could be, which I believe is the co-creative act of union, of wholeness, of love, of everything that the mystics teach about.
Ilia: Great, Brie, and thanks for bringing Beatrice into the conversation because like Teilhard, she was extremely insightful and prophetic. She was mystical in her own way. And that shift from a domination paradigm and the Holy Thursday revolution becoming food for one another. It's just—Still, I think that's alluring. But you said something that also I think is really good. The local changes global life. So unless we change locally within ourselves.
So I think the first thing is attentiveness to the energies of our own lives. Where are those energies? Where is our passion? And I do think more and more the question of God is a question of passion that was involved in a discussion not too long ago on contemplation. They were all very, very scholarly and it was all based on the mostly patristic and medieval traditions of contemplation on beingness and this type of thing. And I thought, "Well, it was nice, but I am really concerned that..." We don't get out in the middle ages. We're trying to, but we're kind of like really loving it there. I'm saying like Teilhard's notion of contemplation, it's really simple question, "Where are your passions?" And that's Beatrice. Where is your deepest and your eros, your agape? What's drawing you?
And that's not some spiritual like my body is like a piece of marble, but my spirit is like surging toward heaven or something. We're energy fields so passion is really a key. And I think we kind of need—I know Bernard Lonergan talked about the dynamism of desire. Desire is a passion. Jesus himself was about desire. That guy was really full of passion.
Brie: He didn't know what to do with it; poor guy.
Ilia: He didn't know. I think he had an unbridled passion. And we could use a little unbridled passion in a world that's so dominated now by information and technology and machines and efficiency. One thing Siri can't do—or your local robot—is get passionate about something. Your robot can't go beyond itself, it can just give you the information it has been coded with. So I guess maybe—and going back to Beatrice, she spoke about that spading energy; that I am, that coming to that...
Brie: I am, may you be.
Ilia: Yes, may you be. There's something about that coming to the true energetic center of who we are allows others to be who they are. And it's when our centers coincide, for Beatrice, that we had that ‘noesis.’ We know. We know by way of the connectivity of our energy centers and not some intellectual left brain logical analysis of, "Your thoughts are totally in agreement with mine although we differ on a few points." So I like that trajectory. I just don't think we have enough of it.
Robert: What values will guide our co-creation of the religion and spirituality of the future? Coming up, Brie and Ilia talk about relational wholeness, eros, and the body's role in spiritual life.
Ilia: What do you think are the next steps then toward realizing this composting God and this creative self?
Brie: This is so juicy. I love having this conversation. Beatrice is so juicy in how she writes too. And I like that you're bringing that up; that kind of ecstatic energy that she has and the way she so passionately ends so many of her books with this call to become who you've always been becoming by creating with God or creating as God to God with God's godding. And it's always like—I'm trying to think if it's the Trinity book where she ends by saying, "So how should we pray? Or what's the most contemplative way to live?" And she says, "Dance, be. Be at the center of your life. Express yourself fully, creatively, with courage." That is where God is.
It makes me think of that line by Teilhard where he says, "God, you are at the tip of my pen, the tip of my ax, the end of my paintbrush." I think about that all the time. So at least for me, there's so much that's resonating about the way that you're talking about this transition because I've even jokingly been describing my podcast as a spirituality for the makers, not the monks. And I think it's because there's this sense of like, "Yeah, I'm kind of tired of the medieval contemplative movement as well." It's just a little stale and boring. The reason I had to kind of move out of that world is because creativity really compelled me to. I'm less interested in us continuing to pedestalize teachers and mystics who have come before us and all of their writing.
And in so doing what we are doing is we are projecting the power of our own creativity out and upward, somewhere else. I would much rather that we put the books down and learn to write with your own pen and paint with the paintbrush, or sing with your voice regardless of what your vocation is. I like to say on my podcast that whoever you are, you are an artist because you are making a masterpiece with the choices you make every day. So your life is an artistic expression. So I think that part of the transition that needs to happen in our spiritual circles is to put the emphasis on creativity. In other words, the point of these moments of spiritual oneness or deep abiding stillness of like the top of the seven story mountain that Merton finally gets to. It's like, "Okay..." The point of that, as St. Teresa says, the point of all of that is not to sit back and be like, "Ah, at last I am one with God. Now I'm going to emerge from this and only speak in this breathy voice and wear long flowy clothing." It's like, "Get over yourself."
Brie: You talk about energy and that's very much the subject of my book is, is it's all about eros. It's all about reframing eros energy so that we're no longer just relegating it to this tiny little corner of human sexual relations. Like, "Can we get eros out of the bedroom, please?" It's much bigger than that. It's enlivenment, it's the capacity to be fully alive in joy and abundance and in love and generosity.
Ilia: It's like God is erotic, you know?
Ilia: I didn't say that, Pseudo Dionysius said that in the fifth century. It's like taboo language. It is so ridiculous, honestly.
Brie: But I find that by at least—I just finished up my spring class. The spring class that I teach is all about eros energy and how to really, through sensation, begin to remember; to be membered to your own wholeness and your own body once more. How to pay attention to how energy flows through the body, where it gets stuck in story and in narratives and in wounds and patterns. And how to free ourselves. How to allow God or allow love energy to get into those stuck places and facilitate flow again so that you can be your fullest most alive creative self. So I think paying attention, as you said, to energy, to enlivenment, to desire, to passion... I think about the line that Jesus said in the gospel of Thomas, where He's like, "Stop lying. Don't do what you hate because everything is revealed before the kingdom of heaven."
It's sort of like I kind of just want to tell spirituality to just get over yourself already. Like, "Religion, okay, get over yourself already." And then let's stop lying and doing what we don't love. Let's metabolize these things as one because they are one. And that's kind of where you started in our conversation was saying like, "Oh yeah, matter and spirit aren't one anymore." "Oh, religion and science are no longer at odds." And I'm like, "It is all one thing."
Ilia: I think true oneness—I'm not even sure we ever arrive at "the one" if it is purely energy. It's always a creative process, it's always an ongoing dynamic. So I think that needs to be a little bit reframed. And I would agree. We rely so heavily on the past mystics and this past spiritual—even present spiritual writers like, "Who said this and who said that?" Well, what do you say? I think that it's an easy way out sometimes. And I think in some ways we place those energies as creative energies outside ourselves. We're too fearful to enter into our own creative domains. We're too worried. I don't really have anything of my own to say, but I am really inspired by it. So that's good. I mean, good to be inspired. But the inspiration to inspire your own spirit.
So I do think we're a little bit too heavily relying on the past. Plus I'd like to say there are other really spiritual people who weren't necessarily Christian or even in the church. I mean, you could take some of the physicists for example. People like Bohr or Bohm for example, they were dealing with work. They were dealing with deep philosophical issues and deeply religious ones at the heart of it. But we tend to separate and categorize these things. Like, "We can't have like a Saint Albert Einstein or a Saint David Bohm, first of all who is Jewish. So that's not going to work." So we carve everything up and this is, I think, our greatest mistake. We carve things up, we carve them up with words, with concepts. We conceptually divide the world, and then we set these concepts over and against one another.
And so even our desire for wholeness is belied, it's kind of worked against by the way we've constructed a world of safe categories. "Because I know what this is. I know what a democrat is and what a Republican is and I can tell you exactly where I'm going to stand," instead of getting to know people, persons. A center is not an idea, it's a personal center of energy. So you have to actually connect with one other. You use the words courage and abandon and I think those are really important words. I think the type of shift you’re calling for in your writing and your speaking here and in your own new book, is that we have to move from a very heavily trained left brain analysis of things. We basically—Iain McGilchrist work, we basically cut off the right brain from the rest of the world and we became kind of launched in an analytical stuff in methods. "What's your method?" We still have that in theology.
Theology is about God talk. You don't really need a method, you need an experience maybe, but anyway. So we don't do well with the right brain. In fact, we're reinforcing the left brain today with a lot of technology. It's about its and bits. So it's about information. We're losing the capacity to take that information and allow the right brain to connect it with the body, with the wider world, and then to allow what we gain through AI or technology to reinvent our world in a creative wholeness. And so we can see where some of our fast tracked developments are leading us astray. But I do think right brainedness—so being in touch with the body. We're talking about with a body that changes, that gets sick, that breaks down, that can be trained.
I think body stuff requires attention to how—The arms I can tell you after my head accident, I'm much more attentive of where my feet are. I was told by my therapist, Randy, "You must think with your feet." And I do. I was just in New York City, I'm like, "Think with your feet as you go down these stairs and up these stairs." And people pushing and courage. Do we have the courage to really be ourselves? Do we have the courage to really think from the center within ourselves? Not what so-and-so said, not what Augustine said, or St. Thomas Aquinas said. How about what do you say? Jesus asked that question. "Who do you say that I am?" And they're like, "Oh, some say you're John the Baptist, and some say you're Elijah." But he said, "Who do you say that I am?" That's a really key question for us. He's not asking us, "Do you know all the prophets? Do you know your history of the Bible?" He's saying, "What do you experience of me?" And that's really important for us.
The other word you use is abandon. We live in a world where we want pretty short answers to things. Like if I'm going to do this, I want to make sure that's going to work out. That's funny because the probability working out is about 50/50, maybe 60/40, maybe 75/25. Are you willing to take a risk? So we're not really good at risk taking. It's like, "I've been hurt too much. I've failed 78 times, I can't risk failure again." And I'm like, "Unless we can find something within us to trust that taking a new risk or a new challenge can indeed be a whole new future."
But it's that crossing that threshold. We're always given that choice. "Here's the threshold. Do you want to push it? Do you want to cross it or not? Do you want to stay safe? Fine. Here's your consequences. If you want to push it, here's what the possibilities are."
Brie: Yeah. If I can just jump in and say what this is bringing up for me, Ilia. I really love the way you're describing right and left brain, because I tend to say things like—The mind will seek to colonize uncertainty with certitudes. Yet the way you're describing it is helpful because actually, it's almost like the left part of your brain that's really trying to analyze, get the right certainty, the right identity, figure it out the right system. And as you're describing, the right brain is really all about unknowing. Because creativity can only function through the gateway of unknowing. Creativity does not happen through knowledge, it does not happen through certitudes, it does not happen through safety. It happens through risk, through abandon, through letting go, through jumping in, through faith. And by that letting go of what we think we know, that's the only way to make room for that larger imagination, that larger possibility.
Robert: A special thanks to Brie for allowing us to use her single, Bloom, throughout this episode and the next. To hear the full track and more music, follow Brie Stoner on Spotify, Apple Music, or wherever you listen. Next week, Ilia and Brie pick up talk about playfulness, embodiment, and the spiritual challenges of technology and racism. On behalf of the Center for Christogenesis, I'm Robert Nicastro. Thanks for listening.