Becoming Enchanted

with Katherine May

Living in uncertainty can lead to a sense of languishing. How do we wake up from this feeling?

Katherine May has written gorgeous books like Wintering and Enchantmentthat help us better understand how to live wide-awake to the world around us.




Katherine May

Katherine May is an internationally bestselling author and podcaster living in Whitstable, UK. Her most recent book, Enchantment became an instant New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller. Her internationally bestselling hybrid memoir Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times was adapted as BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week, and was shortlisted for the Porchlight and Barnes and Noble Book of the Year. The Electricity of Every Living Thing, her memoir of a midlife autism diagnosis, was adapted as an audio drama by Audible. Other titles include novels such as The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club, and The Best, Most Awful Job, an anthology of essays about motherhood which she edited. Her journalism and essays have appeared in a range of publications including The New York Times, The Observer and Aeon.Katherine’s podcast, How We Live Now, ranks in the top 1% worldwide, and she has been a guest presenter for On Being’s The Future of Hope series.Katherine lives with her husband, son, two cats and a dog. She loves walking, sea-swimming and pickling slightly unappealing things.

Show Notes

Read Katherine May’s two books Enchanted: Awakening wonder in an Anxious Age and Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times.

Kate’s favorite children’s book is How to Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen.

Learn more about Mudlarking for treasures.

Our favorite Barbara Brown Taylor wrote An Altar in the World.

Learn more stories of the many people in the world starting in NYC through the Instagram account of Humans of New York.

Listen to Rev. Dr. Sam Wells Podcast who serves at St. Martin of the Fields in the UK.

If you or someone you love have been hurt through organized religion we have a list of resources that maybe can help you process the pain and hurt you have endured. Check out our Support Guide: Church Hurt Happens.




Discussion Questions

  1. Kate and Katherine spoke about how various parts of life, whether busyness, routines, hardships, or most certainly a global pandemic, can squeeze away any sense of enchantment we experience as we move through the world. Yet, opportunities for enchantment are all around. What is a time, whether recently, or long ago, that you felt enchanted by a moment in your life?

Katherine shared, “I think that we don’t know how to do community very well any more… And it’s vital. When we’re talking about enchantment, I think that, magic can only be woven between people because otherwise it dissipates so fast. And you need other people to hold it for you in the moments when it’s floating away for you and you can own other times.”

2.  In Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 we are told that “ Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other, but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.” Who has been there to lift you up in times of need? How have you been able to live into this idea of community and interdependence in your own life? What can you do to be more open to this idea of interdependent community?

3.  What is a rhythm you can build into your daily or weekly life to take moments to slow down, ground yourself, and experience the present? One way to do this that Katherine shared about is to hold a stone in your hand for a few minutes, noticing its weight, features, etc. Others find that journaling or unplugging for a few minutes helps them. What might work for you, and when do you want to try it?


Kate Bowler: My name is Kate Bowler, and this is Everything Happens. So looking back, I think I’d had grand hopes that the pandemic would force us to rewrite our cultural myths about bootstrapping and being winners because living in chronic uncertainty has to change us. And for so many of us, this has been a death by a thousand papercuts kind of feeling. Just the sense that regardless of the magnitude, and maybe for so many of us with small injuries and big ones, we feel the sort of compounding losses over years of uncertainty or things coming apart in relationships or illness or caregiving or taxing jobs or just the kind of and…, and…, and… feeling. And living with that much uncertainty can lead to a sense of languishing. But how then do we wake up from this feeling? How do we become alert or alive or feel ourselves again? My guest today is the perfect person to talk to about these kinds of questions. Her name is Katherine May. Katherine May has written gorgeous books like Wintering and Enchantment. And they were instant New York Times and Sunday Times bestsellers. She hosts the popular podcast How We Live Now, and she lives in the UK with her family, where I am here with her today. She knows how to pay attention like no one I have ever met. Katherine I have really, really, really been looking forward to finally meeting you.

Katherine May: I am so excited to be here. It’s so cool to meet you

Kate: Your absolutely beautiful, delicate book, Enchantment is trying to talk us into something. Which I, I believe. I believe that there is something that we started missing when our lives got sheared down to these terrible pandemic essentials. And it’s been… Why do you think it’s been so hard to figure out how to, I guess, move on at all? Convince ourselves that there’s something that, work that needs to be done now.

Katherine: Yeah, it’s a really interesting problem. And I actually think that one of the issues is that we were already in trouble before the pandemic came. And, you know, we were already in this cycle of fear and suspicion of each other, and this sense had already landed that the world had fundamentally changed and we didn’t know what to do with it. And we can’t make sense of it and we don’t trust it. And so then comes the pandemic and those rules just get more fixed. And I remember very naively thinking right at the beginning, oh, this will unite us.

Kate: Yeah, absolutely.

Katherine: But, you know, thinking, wow, surely we can all agree on this, this thing. Yes. But we come. And there’s just been a lot that’s happened. And we’ve lived with fear that I don’t think most of us have experienced in our lifetime with that sense of ever-present fear. And so when you consider all of those factors, it’s no wonder that we’ve come out the other side feeling a little bit broken.

Kate: You’re right. You’re right! I guess we were not convinced before that we were experts in uncertainty because we were just… I mean, the apocalyptic feeling. Erosion of democracy.

Katherine: Yeah. I was thinking about this lately. I did medieval history for my A-levels at school when I was, like 18. And there was this this phrase that we learn to repeat in exams that was that people became millenarian and eschatological, which are words you’ll know.

Kate: Say more about them, because it warms my heart that you are.

Katherine: Well, they’re both concerned, really, with the coming of the end times, aren’t they? They’re both about this mass feeling that the world is going to end. And it was only really recently that I thought, oh yeah, here I am, another millennium and we are millenarian, and eschatological. And they’re still really difficult words to spell.

Kate: How did you know that you were starting to feel the wear and tear of this much perpetual uncertainty?

Katherine: I, I really like ground to a halt. And I and it’s funny because I when the lockdown came, I thought, well, this is playing into my hands. Like I’m used to being on my own in the house all day. Like this is ideal. But I wasn’t used to having my husband and son around. And that was a shock. I mean, God love both of them. But wow, they talk a lot. I had no idea. And I… And actually, like trying to manage the fears for I mean, he was seven when it rolled around and things like whenever an ambulance drove past he’d say is that a Covid ambulance? And I’d be like, “Well, it might be, we don’t know, but it’s okay, they’re taking people to hospital.” Like this is this is society running like this is actually functioning, happening and not being able to give him the answers that he needed or to say the reassuring things and then trying to keep up with my own work and my own financial fears that that so many of us had. And like my mum lives in Spain and her partner became ill, that we’re very worried about them. We couldn’t get to them if something happened. All of those things meant that it wasn’t pleasurable time alone as much as I wanted it to be. And there just came a point when I realized that time was behaving strangely like it was skipping and grinding, and I couldn’t access the thoughts in my head. Like I felt like I’d slowed down so much that I couldn’t grasp anything that I was trying to do. And there was this day when I was washing my face in the sink one night, and I thought, I washed my face in the sink last night moments ago. Like it was like time had kind of gathered up together and it was skipping. And yeah, I really realized that I just didn’t have anything left in the tank.

Kate: Sometimes when we’re stuck in the house or stuck in a routine, and even the routine is good or bad or whatever the normal starts to be, we start to feel like normal should feel ordinary and grounded. And you were like, oh, it’s not. This is not that.

Katherine: This is not normal. Yeah, but at the same time, like I realized quite soon on that my son, after about a year that my son didn’t remember life outside the pandemic. And, and I think I don’t know about you, but those new habits became so ingrained in me really quickly. They felt really grating at first, but then…I’ve struggled to let go of them. You know, I still, still now when it’s when it’s time for me to leave the house, there’s like a, it’s like I’m going over a speed bump. You know, there’s like an extra.

Kate: Do you add some steps? Where you’re like, check, check, check?

Katherine: Yeah, yeah. Oo, am I allowed to do that? Like, am I allowed out here? Can I touch this? Oh, I gotta have, I haven’t got a mask. You know, like all of those thoughts they’ve become…I’ve internalized them. Yeah.

Kate: Yeah, that makes sense.

Katherine: I’ve learned those new rules really, really well.

Kate: You argue that we need… That there’s a there’s a direction we might be able to head into that, in which, the world could sparkle a little bit again. Can you tell me a bit about that?

Katherine: That’s a lovely way to put it. I like that, yeah. Yeah, I think I think one of the things that we’ve been telling ourselves for a long time is that the whole world is very degraded and broken and irreparable and that it’s the smart thing to know that, you know. And if you’re in denial of that, then you’re actually just a bit naive and fluffy and you poor little lamb, but, you know, you’re not living in the real world with the rest of us. And I, I set out to challenge that in this book because that was definitely me, you know, that was 100% me until really relatively recently. And it’s, you know, it reflects a lot of the people who are around me and who I grew up with. And I’ve learned that there’s a little bit of magic to be found in all sorts of places, and that to do that is actually a defense, like a way of coping and a way of looking after yourself in really, really tough times. And to do it doesn’t make me any less politically engaged, any less likely to go out and do good in the world. In fact, it makes it more likely because I’m I’m getting back what I need. And really, I mean, really what I’m talking about is having a spiritual relationship with the world, which is something that makes British people like curl up their fingers and roll into a ball. Americans are a bit better at dealing with that comment. But, but it is, it’s about that sense of having this connected conversation with something that feels more vast than you are and more wise and trying to enter into a flow with that. And I think we need it.

Kate: If we look for examples in what it would be like if we were more like that. You love looking at kids being wonderous. It’s, I mean, I have learned so much about the absurd, awakeness of childhood by having this now nine year old who every time I look in a pocket, it is just…

Katherine: Full of really good things.

Kate: Yeah, hoarder or someone who’s been paying acute attention to… We have a joke where every time he holds my hand, he pretends to be like, pulling his entire body weight away because he just found something in the middle of the road. He does it because he knows it makes me feel very sweaty right away.

Katherine: They immediately learn how to push all your buttons, don’t they?

Kate: Yes

Katherine: Thats the first thing that they learned. Kids 101.

Kate: Exactly, 101. It’s just like little every little jewel, every little…if there was like the shape of a shadow of a bird on the ground, if there was, uh, I mean, it’s… I was, I have chronic pain. And I was, he walked into the bedroom and I was lying on a series of pillows doing a couple of weird stretches. And he immediately takes this, like, neck pillow, slings it around his tiny little back, like a satchel, like a little baby Pilgrim’s Progress. And he’s like, “Where are we headed out to?” with such a confident jaunty-ness. And it took him like, and done, like how fast they can toggle into this stretchy…

Katherine: They can drop into play so quickly and we can’t. We have to work really hard to get that because we’ve unlearned it really well. It’s amazing to see.

Kate: What are those qualities of like, play that or not? Because I like when you’re like, this isn’t just being childish, like they’re doing a thing.

Katherine: Yeah, I mean, I think one of, I mean, I’ve always worked with kids, so I’ve spent a lot of time watching kids make art specifically, and write. And I… We’ve got play all wrong. Like we’ve got this very modern idea of play that is either educational and we’re governing it, and we’re setting a series of tasks and we need to know what they’re going to get out of that. So, oh, they may be enjoying themselves, but they’re actually learning the alphabet. I’ve achieved the date. That’s nonsense. They’ll do that anyway. It’s fine. They’ll do that for themselves. Or we think of play as like something that has to be happy, and therefore has to be like noisy and primary colored. And when we see our children engaging with that kind of a world, it satisfies us because we think we’re giving them something that’s specifically childlike and actually that’s such a thin representation of play, like play can be found in that, but it’s not very deep. And I, I think that if you spend time watching children genuinely left to their own devices and not being guided by us and not being praised by us, even, because I think we often have to think we have to praise play now, which is just something that happens. It’s fine, we can leave it alone, it’s all right. As with many things in life.

Kate: I don’t have to instrumentalize your play into a self-improvement plan. Getting into college? Is it happening now?

Katherine: When my son was, you know, two and people are at their peak of scary parenting, I saw on somebody else’s Instagram a picture of a note that one mother had sent to another after their children had come over to play. And it was like a summary of what the children had played that day. And I was like, why can’t we just leave them alone? They were fine. Like these kids had had a great time.

Kate: Yeah, but this cultural anthropologist-slash-mom…

Katherine: Yeah, it was like, wow. So they, first of all, they engaged in some imaginative play and then they did some like spatial play on the slide, and it’s like, nooooo, just let them! You know, I’m really, I’m really conscious of the culture of that. And I think that when you watch kids just play and leave them alone and if you remember your own play as well, you realize how multi-dimensional it is and how many different emotions it involves. And how dark it often is and also how chaotic, you know, and and how quiet it can sometimes be, and concentrated and obsessive and things that we would now often lead our children away from doing. A part of that real necessity that kids feel to sink into deep attention, which is what play really is, it’s just different forms of deep attention.

Kate: And when we see adults, I mean, I’m just thinking of all the characitures of, not that this would happen here, but like in the States, I’m thinking like, Man with Sea-Doo. Oh, I’d be like, that’s play.

Katherine: What’s a Sea-Doo?

Kate: Thank you so much for letting me do this—jetski?

Katherine: Oh oh oh yeah, jet ski, jet ski, yeah.

Kate: Also, I’m always playing the game, “Did I use a word or is it Canadian?” It’s a game I play with myself.

Katherine: Is that what they call a jet ski?

Kate: I think so.

Katherine: Oh, wow.

Kate: At least I did, in lake life in the middle of Canada. Is this the sea? Is it just a lake? Where do I live? Yeah, we picture like, people and quote, “toys.” Like big, expensive things or.. I don’t know.

Katherine: Or nightclubs. And, you know, that’s the adult play with the—.

Kate: The “woo” version. Just woo.

Katherine: Or like, I don’t know, this kind of sense that adults have to act a bit like children and be wacky to be playing. And you know, reading is play. Talking to a friend is play. Walking is play, thinking is play. You know? I think we all have different ways of playing and and it all matters actually. We really we need those forms of play. And I think we really need it to be less organized sometimes.

Kate: Yeah there’s my, this is reminding me of my, my favorite book is called How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen. And it’s illustrated by Quentin Blake. As all good things must be. And it’s just this kid, Tom, and he noodles. He noodles around. And he got these all these made up words. He rakes and mucks, and he does all these things that are… But in the end, all of his noodling, which he has been firmly instructed not to do, and he is punished for noodling. And so they bring in this his aunt, Fidget Wonkham-Strong, who wants to, who makes him eat his greasy bloaters. Wants, just wants to punish him for all the play. Anyway the noodling I, that really inspired me. So I. I have this little stretch of time every…every day if it works out with my kid where we just call it noodling. Noodling could be anything. But I really did learn like, oh my gosh, if I hyper-structure this, I will be Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong with her iron hat.

Katherine: It is so easily done. And you know, all of we kind of educated mothers who are used to achieving loads in everyday life, we take that into the nursery with us. And we just, we’re just not needed. They’re, okay. We need to be there to give them a hug when they fall over and, you know, to maybe settle the odd dispute if we can not avoid it. But, um, but yeah, it’s, it’s sad. And I mean, in the book I was talking specifically about the play that happens in nature and how varied that is and how that, that surfaces like a deep terrain, like this place that you can play infinitely in. And it’ll keep offering you something as you go through life, including being an adult.

Kate: What are some of the ways that nature has inspired you to be less…I’m trying to think of another word than like, scripted, but you’re like, Whoa, I guess I have to relearn this thing?

Katherine: That’s a really good word. Well, yeah, because I, I didn’t have the kind of natural romping childhood that, you know, that we would idealize. As I entered adulthood, I kind of I realized that I didn’t feel like I knew nature well enough to take part in it. And I, you know, I didn’t know the name of any trees and I didn’t, I couldn’t identify birdsong. And I felt a bit embarrassed about that. But I also felt like other people had that and it wasn’t mine. And therefore I shouldn’t, I should like back off and leave them to it. And, you know, in Electricity, I wrote about taking this long walk, and that was a real transformation for me because not only did I learn to be outside without feeling intense discomfort and being constantly like, something’s going to sting me. Something’s going to sunburn me. But where am I? I’m going to get tired. I’m going to get hot, I’m going to get cold and like, I’m going to get wet. You know, I, I sort of learned to deal with that. You put the right clothes on and go out, and I realized that I could make it my domain and the place that I was allowed to undertake learning in, you know, and that, yeah, I might not have grown up knowing the names of trees, but I could just learn them now. And that I could have fun with that. And I could be humble before it and admit that I didn’t know it rather than trying to conceal I didn’t know it, which is, you know, which is what we do a lot of. I think a lot of my work now is hopefully about inviting other people to do the same and just saying like, it’s fine, you don’t know anything. So what? Come and do your own thing there.

Kate: You really want us to relearn our place. And the, and that place-ness somehow will, like, you know, grow roots under us. If someone’s not in a Jane Austen countryside and they’re in a neighborhood that maybe, like a lot of people live in places they didn’t grow up and that feels like a challenge to be like, all right, yeah. How do we “in place” here?

Katherine: Yeah. I mean, one of the questions that I get asked most of all, at, say literary festivals or whatever, is people saying, “But I live in the city. How can I find enjoyment?” It’s like, oh, my God, right, come on, there’s so many good things. And enchantment doesn’t just lie in the natural world anyway. But this city’s a full of deep, deep enchantment. All those amazing, crazy museums you find in every city, but even the tiny ones that have got weird artifacts—love those. I just love them. And people are nature. And you can you go out and you see this mass of people and they’re all they’re all doing a different thing. And people’s faces are so beautiful when they’re resting and when you’re not looking at them and talking to them. Like the stuff, stuff people do in their unawares of you and the little kindnesses they show each other and the way en masse people flow around a space is so beautiful. And I just, I find infinite things to just love about it. And I don’t understand why we think that’s so bad, that that space is so bad. Yeah, it’s lovely.

Kate: That kind of reminds me of the people of, the People of New York accounts. That it’s, falling in love with—

Katherine: Humans, Humans of New York.

Kate: Humans of New York! Sorry. Yes. But that, when you described, I thought, yeah, that is like falling in love with the granularity of strangers.

Katherine: It’s amazing. I mean, so often when we come… The contact we have with other random humans is often conflict, isn’t it? You know, we’ve bumped into each other or we’ve got a bit cross with each other. But you have to point your attention towards them when you’re not cross with them. They’re pretty lovely.

Kate: Yes. Yes, yes, yes

Katherine: It’s a bit like children.

Kate: We’ll be right back.

Kate: If someone, say, felt very floaty. You know, like, you know, they get their habits, but their habits don’t feel connected to where they are or even maybe enough, just like it’s hard to get that settled feeling. What, when you, if you were to give advice how to people, maybe some first steps for how people might say, “Oh, hey, here I am.”

Katherine: Yeah. I mean, first of all, I think it’s really important to acknowledge how okay, how actually, that’s a rational response that we’ve all had to leave our bodies to feel safe. And the for loads of us, we’ve had, we’ve been almost trained to ignore our gut feelings and to ignore intuition to override them when they’re telling us, “Oh no, I’m too tired to do this, this is too unpleasant, I don’t like this. I’ve got to do it anyway because it’s my job,” or, you know, whatever. And so I think it’s no mean feat to learn to get back into your body like that. And it’s okay for that to be a process. And the aim is really to learn to tune back into the thing inside you that says, “I want to do this, I want to touch this, I want to look at it. I think it’s beautiful. I’m drawn to it.” But we don’t always feel that immediately. And I always say, you know, there are a few simple little things that you could just practice just until you feel it. And a lovely one is just holding a stone. Stones are so nice to hold. Like that.

Kate: I like that.

Katherine: You go looking for a stone, wherever it is. And it’s okay if it’s in one of those garden arrangements of stones. That’s okay. That’s still a real stone. They think those up around where I live. And, you know, hold a stone in your hand and feel its weight and feel the way it warms up in your palm and its appearance will change as you hold it as well. You know, it takes in the oils of your skin and it will begin to have a little sheen. And you can think about you can think about it however you like. You can think about what it looks like, whether it like looks like a little animal or whether it’s got a pretty shape to it or a hole in it. I love hole-y stones. But you can also, if you want to, think about how old is and how impossible it is to understand that time scale and you can think about how heavy it is and how you can feel its pull towards the earth and that that’s gravity. Like, here’s gravity right here in my hands. It’s a kind of prayer, isn’t it, to hold a stone, You know, it’s a it’s a distillation of feeling, communicated directly. And for those people who say that they don’t pray or they can’t pray or they wouldn’t dream of praying because it’s just too silly for them to do, you can do that. Like that’s the same, it’s the same thing. You’re communicating with something much greater than you are. And you have to acknowledge that stone is at least of greater age than you, if nothing else. And yeah.

Kate: You’re like, let yourself be connected.

Katherine: Let yourself be connected. It’s ok.

Kate: For this trip to London, I told my little family, everyone can have a, everyone can have a dream for it. And my son’s dream was, he was talking to my dad, his grandpa, and they were talking about the the Thames going up and down and that there’s these mudlarkers who go find things.

Katherine: Oh, yes, there are, yeah, yeah.

Kate: And since Zack’s dream is just the act of finding, he we have just been talking about this for months. The fact that his eyes will look for hours. He’s devastated only by the fact that I will only do it once for four hours with, then I had to buy gloves for it. And I had to buy, I had to register it with a person.

Katherine: That’s right, yeah you do, yeah.

Kate: And have an official, and I have to have an official guide slash archeologist.

Katherine: That is correct. Yeah.

Kate: And he’s like, and every two seconds is, “Do you think that I’ll find something that we have to register with the museum or… Because I really, I really just want to touch everything.”

Katherine: Okay, so a very good friend of mine used to be one of the people you had to register finds with. She went to the British Museum, and when she was junior, she had to sit there and people come in with things they found. And I think the vast majority of things are not rich history. And some were quite like, eccentric.

Kate: You’re like, actually, that’s just a syringe.

Katherine: What a job that is, though, honestly, just people coming and showing you their treasures.

Kate: Because I can hear it when people I mean, I think a lot of people rediscovered gardening in the pandemic or, I can’t hear any more about sourdough starters. I have hit my limit on my on my interested face.

Katherine: Like oh, you’re making sourdough, that’s nice

Kate: Oh no, not again! But the, I think the idea of falling in a big tar pit of attention.

Katherine: It’s just lovely. And I, like I’m not a sour dough maker, but I get it. You know, I get that process of tending to something, handling it. It’s a ritual, isn’t it? And it’s, and it produces something. And there’s, I think, so many of these processes we’re talking about end up in a kind of exchange of gifts as well. They don’t stay with us.

Kate: Like knitting.

Katherine: We give we give our loaves of bread away and then we think of others making jam. Yeah. Yeah, that’s true. Yeah all of those things. And I think gardening is is one of them, too. I mean, you know, give away the vegetables you grow. You…I mean, my grandma used to give everyone a posy of flowers from her garden wrapped up in tinfoil around the bottom. It’s a nice thing to do.

Kate: And then you learn to care when things happen. You want us to be more aware of the when.

Katherine: Yes. Yeah.

Kate: Instead of just be, I’m just thinking of, like, supermarket life. There’s no when I can have a watermelon at all times.

Katherine: Yeah, absolutely, yeah. That reengaging with the seasons is just, I mean, it’s environmentally a good thing to do, but it’s also another shortcut to enchantment. It’s a way to notice these incredible transformations that happen across the year and to, like, be part of that, actually. And I, I for a long time shopped in, shopped locally and you know, farmers markets and things and so I’m quite, and I grew up in a house of fruits and vegetables so I’m sort of I’m very absorbed in the idea of only eating certain things at certain times of year. But it’s something you can learn to do. You can learn to not expect strawberries in the winter. And the great thing about that is that when you eat strawberries, they always taste good then, because they’re in season! And much better.

Kate: They’re not gross. But that’s, it’s a, it’s actually a very lovely way to live and it’s just as convenient. But you do, it engages your brain because you’re constantly thinking about what you’re going to cook at this time of year and how that meets that moment. And I love that. Yes, I wish I was a better gardener, though. I wish I could grow my own veg like my granddad did. But one day, maybe in my dotage.

Kate: Dotage!

Katherine: Everything dies at the moment

Kate: We’ll be right back.

Kate: Tell me a bit about ritual. If someone wants to…I’m just thinking of how you were describing not just like having a thought about something, but kind of creating moments around it. That shift. And some people learn to do that with their breathing or like taking off their shoes.

Katherine: Yes, which I love to do. Yeah. Yeah, I, I wrote about ritual in Enchantment because I got asked about it so much after writing Wintering, where I talked a little bit about ritual, talked about the midwinter solstice, and I realized that I didn’t I didn’t have any understanding of ritual at all. And I kept having to answer these questions about it. And like, you know, you’re thinking on your feet. But also, I think I always felt a bit embarrassed about something like ritual, like the idea that you might make a bigger moment out of this basic thing you’re doing just seemed a bit silly and cringey to me. But I’ve leaned into it. I’m fully overly converted. And I think, I think, again, it’s like another little bump you need to get over, that you’re not a teenager anymore and you can choose to have a ritual without feeling like it’s not cool and that’s fine. But it gives you so much because what it does is it opens up a space that you can bring yourself into in that moment. So it gives you a set of actions that you perform and they could be really simple, it doesn’t have to be elaborate. It could be like lighting a candle and watching the sunset, you know, or something like that. Like, very simple. But it shouldn’t dictate how you feel. You bring your current state of being to that moment. And if anything, the ritual tells you how you feel. It shows you because maybe you don’t know. Like, we’re all walking around in this big jumble all the time and whenever I pause to just…notice the sun rising, at an equinox or something like that. I think, “I’m here now.” Like, here I am. Here’s how I feel. Here’s how I’ve progressed since, I hopefully have progressed since, or unraveled, like since the last time I stood and did this. And maybe here are all the other people here with me. And I get the opportunity to tend to them in a way that I wouldn’t normally do. Yeah, it’s just a slowness, isn’t it?

Kate: I like that a lot more than some of the versions I can think of that are very emotionally prescriptive.

Katherine: Oh, I hate that.

Kate: I mean, people love a good gratitude journal, and I know people who feel like they have, are unable to notice it otherwise. But the idea that everything has to be mashed in to a happiness and joy…

Katherine: Oh God, okay. Don’t get me started on the this.

Kate: I think we are of a similar mind on this.

Katherine: I’m so troubled by that. I find that, I find it so patronizing, for a start. Like, “You, down there! Be grateful! Be grateful!” And, like, actually, let’s not, let’s not go around telling each other to fake our emotions. Like, there’s been so much of that in history. And it’s no better to tell people to fake happy emotions like gratitude and joy than it is to have a stiff upper lip. Like it’s the same thing. Like, let’s just stop telling people how to feel. And the crazy thing is that if you if you stop and engage with the world, like gratitude starts really flowing, but it springs up naturally. Like, by all means, notice gratitude when it’s coming. But let’s not say, right now. “Come on, time for some gratitude!” I can think of loads of situations when it’s really legit for absolutely not a shred of gratitude. And that’s fine. It’s really fine. You know this really well.

Kate: I like the idea, though, that you could be watching a sunset. And you could just feel rage. And you’re like, what this sunset inspired today was just an insane amount of homicidal, very directed thought about a situation or person.

Katherine: Yeah, I think that feels really real to me.

Kate: It reminds me of, I was watching a comedian doing, doing a set on like things that are natural, as if, like, nature always just meant like universally good in every way. And he’s like, “You know what’s natural? A sheer rock face. You know what’s natural? A pack of wolves.” And I really liked that. He opened up the category…otherwise I think I put it in a very like, essential oils place in my mind where it’s like, it’s like a spa soundtrack

Katherine: Oh, it’s such a grim flattening of human experience. Like, why, why do we want nature to be nice? And I think our weird attitude to nature is beginning to become problematic because it gets quite eugenic when it’s taken…you know. If you push people really hard on why nature’s so good, it’s like, well, well there’s a bit of survival of the fittest that that eventually eases its way in. And and also there’s this weird sense of like, what is nature and what isn’t. And I don’t think it’s in any way that clearly defined. And why aren’t we nature? You know why why…why is some of the stuff we do nature and some not? Like where do, who’s drawing the lines on why and when? It’s just it’s not a very useful concept, really.

Kate: So like, good stuff and explaining why some animals didn’t live.

Katherine: It’s pretty. Like pretty, nature.

Kate: Yeah, like pretty-ish nature.

Katherine: Yeah. Well, it’s very Instagram and God knows I love Instagram, but it’s that like, oh, it’s lilacs season. I’ve got flowers in my house, you know, And I’ve always like, well, yeah, in my background, lilacs are very rattle up ladies. So please stop bringing them into your houses. Never have a lilac in your house. Not in Kent.

Kate: Really?

Katherine: Mmhmm. Bad luck.

Kate: How bad?

Katherine: Well, they’re harbingers of death. So you would not, you would not die for a lilac.

Kate: Oh that is spicy. You heard it first, or I heard it last

Katherine: So in lilac season, Instagram for me is like, whoah. You don’t want to do that. Not really. I’m no longer as superstitious as I used to be

Kate: You’re like, I’m no longer, I’m only slightly.

Katherine: But there’s that, there’s that little twinge that comes up. So like, oh, you can’t do that. But yeah. But I, you know, I find it much more interesting that we might have once had a had a much more intimate relationship with the natural world. That meant that we could develop a superstition about something as pretty as a lilac

Kate: Totally. That’s so true. Yeah.

Katherine: Whereas now it’s just all bland to us. It’s just pretty. It’s just this flat story-less realm that we’re like, “Oh, I’ve invented bringing lilacs into a to a vase.” Like, you really haven’t.

Kate: Yeah, that’s right. My dad’s a historian of Christmas and this is one of his—this is my welcome to my childhood.

Katherine: He and I would be really good friends, you know that.

Kate: He would love that. This is one of my favorite, I think one of my borrowed favorite things, through him about why he loves all of the separate Christmas customs, is in every tiny little thing: the plants you decorate with, the ones you use to remember, the ones used to ward off, the ones you… Is that you get this this heavily peopled feeling, this, this rich interpretive world. And then it comes in the middle of the darkest time of year. And then you’re… And it demands that the light be brought in and it won’t be otherwise. And I love that

Katherine: I’m actually I’m writing a little piece about Midwinter at the moment that’s going to be an audio book.

Kate: May I introduce you to Gerry Bowler?

Katherine: I need to meet, I must meet him. But I love, I love what we do in that darkness. Yes. And what it says about us. And we’ve we’ve reached a point where that darkness no longer seems menacing or we can push it away enough that we don’t have to engage with it. But I would urge people to engage with it and to feel that fear that comes at midwinter because it does land on us and that gloom and that sense that the world will never get going again. Because it always does. And people had to find a way to have faith in in that coming back, but also to build meaning around it that made them feel like they had agency within that moment. It’s a very cool time of year. I’m not done with winter yet.

Kate: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I like that so much. In case I have accidentally framed this in a very individualistic way—you do believe the things that communities can act upon us to help us frame and structure meaning and not just make us, I mean, self realized, “Oh, look, I made a set of…oh look, I made my life so meaningful. Look at me. And the more meaningful I become, the more interesting I become. Look how good I am.” And then it evolves. And then we evolve always toward the sun. And we don’t. We sometimes grow in the wrong direction. And you’re like…

Katherine: That’s really true. I. I mean, I think that we don’t know how to do community very well any more. We think we do, but we really don’t. And it’s vital. It’s vital to our sense of, well, so many things, like safety. But, but when we’re talking about enchantment, I think that that magic can only be woven between people because otherwise it dissipates so fast. And you need other people to hold it for you in the moments when it’s floating away for you and you can anchor it other times. But there’s, you know, there’s so much beauty and complexity. And communities are complex and they put us in the way of complex people with complex views. And we very swiftly unlearn how to deal with that and how to deal with disagreement and clashes of personality and all of that kind of thing. I freely say that I’m not someone that has the answers for how we get back into community properly and back into congregation, because one of the things that congregations do that we don’t do in any other part of life is they have to welcome all sorts of different people. They have to be non-exclusive. And I don’t think people like me who live in a, you know, like a pretty secular world have ever had to solve that problem. Because we’ve trusted congregations to be doing it elsewhere. And yeah, it’s a really important one for us too. So because that means us shifting away from our like, “I don’t like that person. I don’t, you know, I don’t agree with them, so I don’t want to be with them.” That’s problematic, honestly.

Kate: My friend Sam Wiles is the pastor—using more Anglican words, vicar? Reaching for it.

Kate: Vicar, yeah, we just have vicars.

Kate: Great, great, great, great, learning on the spot. He has a he has a clerical collar. He’s at Saint Martin-in-the-Fields and he’s a delight. And he was talking about, yesterday, of the difference between associations and institutions. And it was these associations like birdwatching that you can develop this very deep but selective way of then communicating. And it could be decades long. But you don’t necessarily talk about your spouse because you’re actually doing this other thing, and it can be a really rich, incredible place. But an institution, and we might just use the church as an example, but has a very wide, a, a much wider and then sometimes, well, like depending on how people are, they…there are fewer entry ways to get in. But then sometimes there are fewer ways in which people know how to connect unless they.

Katherine: Yeah fewer entries to get in, but fewer exits out in many ways.

Kate: Yes, that’s exactly right.

Katherine: Harder for it to reject you, I think.

Kate: Yeah. So he was trying to help me think about like different versions of believing and belonging. And since that’s such a powerful, I think it’s such a…

Katherine: I’m so interested in that. And I have so little, you know, understanding of it, really. Yeah, I mean, I think it’s interesting to compare the US and the UK and churchgoing in that sense as well because, where I come from, you attend the church that’s near your house. I mean, there are just churches everywhere and they’re all basically…

Kate: Oh look, it’s right there!

Katherine: Yeah, that’s it. You go to your closest church, you know? And so I know, I know the vicar of my local church. She’s lovely. And I go sometimes with my son because he goes to school there and not in the church, but next door to the church. And I’m, and I’m part of that community just by dint of living nearby. I don’t think we often think about choice, so much.

Kate: As a personality test? But in the States they can be, association institution become the same thing in which we know that you’re a birdwatcher because you go to, you know, the church of the so-and-so.

Katherine: That’s right. Yeah. And you choose your denomination much more strongly.

Kate: Yeah and then you accidentally get stuck in these smaller and smaller… I mean, so I mean, one of the big hopes I ever have, I teach at a divinity school and which has been very big tent and it’s one of the last big tent experiments denominationally that has, is still being attempted because so many others collapsed. And it’s been really bumpy. But it is, it creates a, always a sense of awe in me for anybody to try to be bigger than their preferences.

Katherine: Yeah, that’s so interesting. I mean, I’d I’d love to work more in this area, but I think… How do we, how do we make that tent even bigger is one of the big questions. Because I mean, obviously, God, this is going to get very boring for your listeners. But you know, in the UK we have all this conflict about the Church of England and its attitude to gay people at the moment. And I think…I think a lot of us had assumed it was a biggqer tent and it turns out to have been. And there’s a huge sense of disappointment about that because people actually really want that umbrella to stretch over so many different people and they don’t want to fragment. But not fragmenting now means inviting a bigger group in. It’s not the same group anymore because we have an established church. There’s this sort of expectation that it will grow with us. And of course it doesn’t necessarily, you know, that it would agree with everything that the mainstream society agrees with. And we seem to have kind of hit that limit there. But, I mean, the big difference is that, you know, I can talk about someone who feels like I’m part of Church of England, even though I’m not a Christian. That’s that that’s the British thing. You know, that I have always grown up with the church and feel very comfortable in it and feel at home there and don’t feel any conflict to sort of being part of that congregation when I choose to go. But that doesn’t make me a very good congregation. And I so admire the people that stick with those places when they feel rejected by them and dig in and say, you know, and I’m going to make you hear me. Like, that’s an incredible thing to do and it’s something I don’t know how to do, I don’t think.

Kate: I think that feeling of not being a lifer but not feeling like a lifer and being being part of multiple kinds of belonging now is so much more common than our institutions imagine when they do annual surveys of who’s doing what. Som trying to figure out your deep interest in what makes us belong to ourselves, what makes us belong once again to the world around us. And then, then we hope to each other. It ounds like it is, is the thing that it’s like constantly creating like tendrils that will wrap around things. And I love it.

Katherine: It’s so interesting and I, I love, I love finding the problem. I love finding the bit I don’t know how to do and I am figuring out how to solve it.

Kate: You remind me so much of, there’s this, my friend Barbara Brown Taylor has this deep and abiding love of making the world feel like reality has layers to it again. And she wrote this gorgeous, gorgeous book called Altar in the World, and it reminded me of you. She said, “The earth is so thick with divine possibility that it’s a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.

Katherine: That’s so true. That’s so true. How do we not notice? How do we not notice all this amazing depth of experience that’s everywhere all the time? Yeah.

Kate: You, my dear, are a delight. And thank you so much for doing this with me.

Katherine: It’s been really fun, thank you. I could have talked about that for hours, sorry.

Kate: I would be interested for hours!

Kate: Katherine perfectly describes all the feelings that I hope for, for this community, for all of us, that in our actual lives, and too full days, that we can feel wonder and delight and joy again. And there is that kind of hope that I was feeling when I wrote a blessing in my new book of blessings called, Have a Beautiful, Terrible Day. Which you can preorder now from your favourite retailer. And I’m saying favourite with a “u” because we’re in the UK. So. But if you want to feel that coming aliveness again, I thought maybe this could be a little blessing for that. For that hope that we could even feel wonder again:.

Kate: I stand, stone still, at the edge of disheartenment. I have nothing but this certainty: nothing changes, nothing lasts. I feel hollow. God, this world you made is full. Warm earth pushing up new seedlings, unfathomable oceans teeming with mystery, and the miracle that our clay bodies bear even the possibility of creating new life. We are all swimming in wonder. So, God, why can’t I feel it? I feel my own blood turning cold with each tiring loss. Good things, beautiful loves, pried from my fingers make them seem empty to me now. But still. Even if, today, I am sure that hope is not knocking at my door, let the lights at the neighbor’s house glow like a jack-o’-lantern. Let the sounds, wafting through the window—someone’s barking dog and kids running amok, the buzz of someone’s television rehearsing the day’s calamities—remind me that we persist somehow under a distant shadow but happy anyway. Let the sun come down from the sky and touch me, and I will walk out to greet it, feeling the low murmur of the ground beneath my feet. And as the earth makes its creaky turns toward night, let the day fall in behind us. “What next?” we will say to the night sky before we close the door and consider its answer tomorrow.

Kate: All right, my dears, that was our last episode of season 11, if you can even believe it. But do not fret. We are going to be back with more episodes in the New year. We love doing this for you and with you. So thank you so much for being a listener. Jeez, Louise, it’s so nice for us. And until then, you can join us for our daily reflections this Advent. We have this free daily devotional for the Christmas season. If that’s your kind of thing and you can download it at It is never too late to join us. Look, it could be like after Christmas and you want to do the 12 days of Christmas and it’s then. Seriously, great. Start then. Just make sure you’re signed up to for our weekly email. That way you won’t miss an episode or anything else we’ve got going on. It’s at And if you liked anything this season—I wanted to be like “this holiday season”—but it’s this podcast season, if you wouldn’t mind, it would take just a couple of seconds and would mean so much to me and my team if you could leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. It makes such a big difference in how people find us and whether guests say yes. So if you wouldn’t mind, and if you could make sure you’re subscribed while you’re there, click the subscribe button.

Kate: Now, also, this is the part of the episode where I get to say that I don’t ever do this work alone. This whole thing started because amazing people at the Lilly Endowment and the Duke Endowment were like, “Yes, great. I want storytelling about faith and life.” So thank you so much to them for the opportunity to do this work. Thank you. To my home, Duke Divinity School, and to our podcast network. Lemonada. And guys, I have this incredible team. I wish you could just see their beautiful faces. They make all the work happen. There is my great co-brain producer and writing best friend Jessica Richie. There is the social worker, does-everything-incredible-mind, Harriet Putnam. The sound guru, Keith Weston; our artistic genius, Gwen Heginbotham; our pastoral heart and financial mastermind, Brenda Thompson; our typist, student, and all around everything Hope Anderson; our wonderful researcher, Kristen Balzer; our social media mastermind and the kind of person who unironically says things like “off the dome,” Jeb Burt; and Associate Dean and all round problem solver Katherine Smith. These are the amazing people who make all this hum. All right, my dears. I’ll talk to you in the new year. But in the meantime, come find me online at @KateCBowler. This is Everything Happens with me, Kate Bowler. And that’s a wrap for season 11.

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