The first time I hung out with songwriter extraordinaire Del Barber was back in 2005 when he drove me from Calgary, Alberta to Winnipeg, Manitoba. I fell asleep almost immediately after he turned the ignition, waking hours later confused and unsure which Canadian prairies we were in the middle of. Del told me I snored. I apologized. He said he didn’t mind. The only other conversation I remember from that drive was about the sacredness of wine in various religious traditions. This would be the first of many long stretches on the highway together. This was back in the days when I believed ol Robert Keen that ‘the road goes on forever and the party never ends’.
In 2015 when I heard one of my favorite songwriters, Del Barber, was going to be playing the fabled SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas--I knew I had to be there. So, I called up my pal Del Barber to see if he would have any time to bounce around Austin between shows if I made the drive from Albuquerque. He said he would, and even secured me a free pass to the festival. With spirits high, I told my wife about my upcoming travels plans to go hear Del play. Coolly, she responded, ‘that would be fine--if you want to miss the birth of our first child.’
Del Barber writes songs that walk around with you, tells stories about your past or is it your future, he pulls back the curtain on the mystery of being human for few minutes while you catch your breath. Del Barber is a Juno award nominee and winner of other music awards that are likely propping open a porch door somewhere. It’s not that Del wouldn’t be grateful for the prestige, he would be and probably is, but he’s just too grounded to make a fuss over such accolades.
In our conversation today, Del and I cover the music and books that shape him, why it’s even more important to live out a dream once you are a parent, how when we were first friends I gave him a test to see if he would understood the wise words of Greg Brown, his connection with the prairie and city landscapes, and his upcoming 5th studio album ‘Easy Keeper’.
‘Easy Keeper’ is the first album that he’s reached out to his community of fans to help raise the resources to fund a record. Since I am a card-carrying member of that community of fans, I urge you to pledge some of your hard-earned dollars to support an independent artist such as Del Barber and so you can get your own copy of his upcoming album ‘Easy Keeper’. When the album drops, you’ll thank me. So there are a couple of ways you can get your mitts on a copy of ‘Easy Keeper’, by going over to Del's Kickstarter or by going to the show notes for this episode at Contemplify.com.
“This bold recovery of a long-forgotten path to prayer, expertly situated in its historical context and made accessible for modern-day believers, makes for absolutely fascinating reading--for the devout and doubtful alike."
- James Martin, SJ, author of Jesus: A Pilgrimage
Imagine a wheel, a wheel with nesting concentric circles within it. Each circle holding the sacred text and ancient contemplative practice of a devoted community of monks. This sounds a lot like something pulled from Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, but actually I am describing a book, and contemplative practice, called The Prayer Wheel: A Daily Guide to Renewing Your Faith with a Rediscovered Spiritual Practice.
My guest today is David Van Biema. David and I explore a lot of terrain in this conversation. First we dive into the origins of why David became a religious writer (a story that reminded me of the film ‘O, Brother Where Art Thou?’, his discovery of the Prayer Wheel at an art gallery in New York, and how the Prayer Wheel can be a devotional practice for those in the Christian Tradition, plus much, much more.
David is the author of Mother Teresa: the Life and Works of a Modern Saint and co-author of The Prayer Wheel: A Daily Guide to Renewing Your Faith with a Rediscovered Spiritual Practice. Van Biema worked at Time magazine from 1993 until 2008, the last 10 years as chief religion writer. He is currently writing Speaking to God: A Cultural History of the Psalms.