Katherine May: Becoming Enchanted

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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 Enchantment that help us better understand how to live wide-awake to the world around us.

In this conversation, Kate and Katherine discuss:

  • How we move from languishing to enchantment
  • Why we need community more now than maybe ever
  • Why we both hate gratitude journals

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Watch clips from this conversation, read the full transcript, and access discussion questions by clicking here.

Follow Kate on InstagramFacebook, or X (formerly known as Twitter)—@katecbowler.



Kate Bowler, Katherine May

Kate Bowler  00:01

My name is Kate Bowler and this is everything happens.


Kate Bowler  02:00

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 1000 paper cuts kind of feeling. But just the sense that regardless of the magnitude, and maybe for so many of us with small injuries and big ones, we feel this sort of compounding losses over years of uncertainty or things coming apart in relationships or illness or caregiving or taxing jobs are 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 a 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  03:47

I’m so excited to be here. It’s so cool to meet you.


Kate Bowler  03:50

You’re 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 worked that needs to be done now?


Katherine May  04:23

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 sensor 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, how this will unite us absolutely. But you know, thinking, wow, that surely we can all agree on this, this thing? Yes, but we can 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 Bowler  05:32

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 May  05:42

Yeah, I was thinking about this lately. I did medieval history from my A levels at school when I was like, 18. And there was this, this phrase that we learned to repeat in exams that was that people became millenarian and a shutter logical, which are words, you’ll know more about them, because it warms my heart the two are, well, they both concerned really, with the coming of the End Times, aren’t they? They’re both about this mass feeling that the world is gonna end. And it was only really recently that I thought, oh, yeah, here, here I am, another millennium. And we are millenarian and as chattel logical, and they’re still really difficult words to spell.


Kate Bowler  06:24

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


Katherine May  06:32

I really like ground to a halt. 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 loved both of them. But, wow, they talk a lot I had no idea. And I actually like trying to manage the fears for him when he was seven, when it rolled around and things like whenever an ambulance drove past he’d say, is that a COVID ambulance? Like, well, I 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 happens. 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 slow 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, like last night moments ago, like me, and like it was like time kind of gathered up together. And we were skipping. And yeah, I really realized that I just didn’t have anything left in the tank.


Kate Bowler  08:31

Sometimes when we’re stuck in the house, or stuck in a routine, and there were even the routine is good or bad. But 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.


Katherine May  08:43

This is no it’s not, but at the same time, like I realized quite soon on that my son after about a year, like my son didn’t remember life outside the pandemic. 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 I’m when it’s time for me to leave the house. There’s like a, it’s like I’m going over a little speed bump.


Kate Bowler  09:13

You know, there’s like an extra do add some steps, like […]


Katherine May  09:17

Oh, am I allowed to do that? Like, am I allowed out here? Can I touch this? Oh, my God, I haven’t got a mascot. You know, like all of those thoughts. They’ve become, I’ve internalized.


Kate Bowler  09:27

Yeah, that makes sense.


Katherine May  09:28

I’ve learned those new rules really well.


Kate Bowler  09:32

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 how to put it?


Katherine May  09:46

I like that yeah, 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 pull it lamb, but, you know, you’re not living in the real world with the rest of us. And 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 learnt 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 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 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 code. But but it is, it’s about that, 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 Bowler  11:36

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


Katherine May  12:02

Full of really good thing.


Kate Bowler  12:06

Someone who has been paying 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 doesn’t because he knows it makes me feel very sweaty right away.


Katherine May  12:20

Immediately learn how to push all your buttons first thing […]


Kate Bowler  12:28

He’s just like little every little tool every little if there was like the shape of a shadow of a bird on the ground if there was a I mean, it’s I was I have chronic pain and I was he walked into the bedroom and I was relying on it series of pillows doing a couple of weird stretches. And he immediately takes this like neck pillow slings around his tiny little back like a satchel like a little baby Pilgrims Progress. And he’s like, where are we headed out to was such like a confident, jauntiness and it took him like and done. Like how fast they can toggle into this stretchy.


Katherine May  13:07

They can drop into play so quickly. And we can’t we have to work really hard to get there. Because we’ve unlearned it really well.


Kate Bowler  13:13

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


Katherine May  13:20

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 right. And 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 although 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 has to 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 there. But it’s not very deep. And 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, many things in life.


Kate Bowler  14:43

Don’t have to instrumentalize your plan for getting into college and happening now.


Katherine May  14:50

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 have 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 have played that day. And I was like, why can’t we just leave them alone? They were fine, like these kids had a great time.


Kate Bowler  15:15

Very, but there’s cultural anthropologist slash mom.


Katherine May  15:18

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. It’s like, no, just let them I, you know, I 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 being 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 Bowler  16:10

And when we see adults, I mean, I’m just thinking of all the characters of it. Not that this would happen here but like, in the states, I’m thinking like, Man with pseudo well, it’d be like, that’s play.


Katherine May  16:22

Thank you so much for.


Kate Bowler  16:24

Letting me that, just there I know. jetski also, I’ve always played the game did I use a word? Or is it Canadian? is a game I play with myself in a jet ski?


Katherine May  16:34

I think so oh, wow. Least I did in Lake life? In the middle of Canada.


Kate Bowler  16:42

So just a lake, where do I live?


Katherine May  16:44

Yeah, we picture like, people end quote, like toys, like big expensive things, or, I don’t know, or nightclubs. And you know, that’s the adult play […]


Katherine May  17:00

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 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 Bowler  17:29

Yes, there’s my writing and my, my favorite book is called How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen. Illustrated by Quinton Blake as all good things must be and it’s just this kid Tom and he noodles he noodles around. And the doc these all these made up words he rakes and mocks 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, welcome strong, wants to make some music Gracie bloaters wants just wants to punish him for all the play. Anyway, the the noodling. I that really inspired me. So I have this little stretch of time every every day, if it works out with my kid, where we just call it noodling, could be anything, but I really did learn like oh my gosh, if I hyper structure this I will be at fidget welcome strong with her iron hat.


Katherine May  18:35

Is so easily done and I you know, all of we kind of very 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. We need to be there to give them a hug when they fall over and, you know, to maybe settle the art dispute if we can not avoid it 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 surface is 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 Bowler  19:16

What are some other ways that nature has inspired you to be less turning another word than like scripted, but you’re like, well, I guess I have to relearn it as.


Katherine May  19:25

Well, yeah because I didn’t have the kind of natural romping childhood that you know, that we will 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 it also felt like other people had that and it wasn’t mine and therefore I shouldn’t like back off and leave them to it. And I 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 constantly like what something’s gonna sting me, something’s gonna sunburn me. Like, where am I I’m gonna get tired, I’m gonna get hot, I’m gonna get cold and like, I’m gonna get wet. You know, I, I sort of learned to deal with that. To put the right clothes on and go out, I realized that I could make it my domain, and a 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 if 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 to say, like, it’s fine, you don’t know anything. So what, come and do your own thing there,


Kate Bowler  20:55

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


Katherine May  21:22

Yeah, I mean, one of the questions that I get asked most of all, say literary festivals or whatever is people saying, but I live in the city. How can I find it charm when it’s like, oh, my God, right? Come on, there’s so many good things and internment doesn’t just learn the natural world anyway but this cities are 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 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 on mass people flow around a space it’s 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 Bowler  22:32

It kind of reminds me of the people of the people of New York account.


Katherine May  22:35

Oh, he was in New York. Sorry.


Kate Bowler  22:40

Yeah, but that when you described her, I thought, yeah, that is, like falling in love with the granularity of strangers does.


Katherine May  22:47

It’s amazing, and the magic again, I’ve been 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 crossed with each other. But you have to point your attention towards them when you’re not cross with them pretty lastly. It’s a bit like children.


Kate Bowler  25:57

We’ll be right back.


Kate Bowler  26:03

Someone say felt very floaty. You know, like we eat all 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 give some advice? How do people maybe some first steps for how people might say, oh, hey, here I am.


Katherine May  26:24

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 that for loads of us. We’ve had, we’ve been almost trained to ignore our gut feelings and to ignore our intuition to override them when they’re telling us. Oh, no, I’m too tired to do 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 as a lovely one is just holding a stone stones are so nice to hold. Like looking for a stone, wherever it is and it’s okay, if it’s in one of those garden arrangements or stones, that’s okay, that’s still a real stone. They dig 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, 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 holy stones. But you can also if you want to think about how old it is, and how impossible it is to understand that timescale. And you can think about how heavy it is and how you can feel it’s pulled towards the Earth and that that’s gravity like he’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 is the same thing you’re communicating with something much greater than you are. And you have to acknowledge that stone is a east of greater age than your if nothing else and yeah, like let yourself be connected.


Kate Bowler  26:28

My for this trip to London, I told my little family everyone can have like everyone can have a dream for my son’s dream was he was talking to my dad, his grandpa. And they were talking about the teams going up and down and that there’s these barrier mud markers. Oh, yes, there are find things yeah and since Zach’s dream is just the act of finding he we’ve 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 that I had to buy gloves for it and I had to buy I had to register it with a person’s right to have an official and I have to have an official guide slash archaeology.


Katherine May  29:47

That is correct, yeah.


Kate Bowler  29:48

He’s like, every two seconds is do you think that I’ll find something that we have to register with a museum or because I really I’m really just want to touch everything.


Katherine May  29:59

Okay, so very good a friend of mine used to be one of the people you had to register fines with. She worked at 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 Bowler  30:16

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


Katherine May  30:19

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


Kate Bowler  30:23

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, oh, no, not again, nice idea of falling in a big tar pit of attention.


Katherine May  30:43

It’s just lovely and I like I’m not a sourdough 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 we give we give our lives away and meeting.


Kate Bowler  31:07

Yeah, and then we think of others they can jam.


Katherine May  31:11

That’s true, yeah, all of those things. And I think gardening 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 little Posy of flowers from her garden wrapped up in tin foil around them.


Kate Bowler  31:24

It’s a nice thing to do. And then you learn to care when things happen. You want us to be more aware of the when?


Katherine May  31:31

Yes, yeah.


Kate Bowler  31:33

Instead of just be I’m just thinking of like supermarket life is there’s no way I can have a watermelon.


Katherine May  31:38

Yeah, all times, absolutely yeah, that re engaging with the seasons it’s 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’ve long for a long time shopped in shop locally in, you know, farmers markets and things. And so I’m quite, and I grew up in a house that grew its own vegetables. So I’m sort of 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. Because they’re in season, much better. 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, I wish I was a better gardener though I wish I could grow my own veggies on my granddad table but one day maybe in my doted. Everything dies at the moment


Kate Bowler  33:01

We’ll be right back.


Kate Bowler  33:05

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 May  36:26

Yes, which I love to do yeah I wrote about ritual and enchantment, because I got asked about it so much after writing wintering, where I talked a little bit about ritual, talked about the 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’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 cringy to me, but I’ve learned into it, I’m fully, fully 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 that 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 can 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 were walking around as 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 it progressed, but since we’re unraveled, like, since the last time I didn’t sit in did this. And maybe here were the other people here with me. And I get the opportunity to attend to them in a way that I wouldn’t normally do.


Kate Bowler  38:32



Katherine May  38:32

It’s just a slowness, isn’t it?


Kate Bowler  38:34

I like that a lot more than some of the versions I can think of that are very emotionally prescriptive. Oh, I hate that 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 into.


Katherine May  38:51

Go get me started on this.


Kate Bowler  38:54

We are similar mind on this one.


Katherine May  38:56

I’m so troubled by that I find that I find it so patronizing for a start, like you down there be grateful, grateful. And, like actually, let’s not let’s not go around telling each other to fake her 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 it springs up naturally like by all means notice gratitude when it’s coming but let’s not say right now, come on. I can think of loads of situations when it’s really legit for absolutely not a shred of gratitude, and that’s fine, but it’s really fine you know this really well.


Kate Bowler  39:53

I like the idea though that you could be watching a sunset. And you could just feel rage. You’re like what’s this sunset in spired today, it’s just an insane amount of homicidal, very directed thought about a situation or person.


Katherine May  40:10

Yeah, I think that feels really real.


Kate Bowler  40:14

It reminds me of I was watching a comedian do it, doing his set on, like things that are natural as if like nature always just met, like, universally good in every way and he’s like, you know, it’s natural, a sheer rock face, you know, it’s natural, a pack of wolves. I really liked that he opened up the category of like, it’s otherwise I think I put it in a very, like, essential oils place in my mind where it’s like a, like a spa soundtrack.


Katherine May  40:43

Oh, it’s such a grim flattening of human experience. Like, why do we want nature to be nice? And I think how weird attitude to nature is beginning to become problematic, because both okay, it’s quite eugenic when it’s taken, you know, if you push people really hard on why nature’s so good it’s like, well, wow, there’s a there’s a bit of survival of the fittest that eventually ease its way in, 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? Or why is some of the stuff we do nature and some not like, where do who’s drawing the lines and why and when it’s just it’s not a very useful concept really, like good stuff and explaining why some animals pretty. Yeah, it’s very Instagram and God knows I love Instagram, but it’s that like, oh, it’s like season. I’ve got flowers in my house, you know? And I’ve always like, well in my background, lilacs are very bad luck, ladies, so please stop bringing them never have a look at your house. Knowing can be really bad luck. Bad. Well, they’re harbingers of death so you would not, you would not die.


Kate Bowler  42:06

You heard it first or either the last.


Katherine May  42:10

Go for me is like, oh, you know what to do? No, really, I’m no longer as superstitious. I no longer I’m only slightly a little twinge that comes out. Like, 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 is pretty true. Whereas now it’s just all bland to us. It’s just pretty, it’s just this flat storyline realm that we’re like, oh, I’ve invented bringing lilacs into a vase like you really have but.


Kate Bowler  42:47

Yeah, that’s right. My dad’s a historian of Christmas and this is one of his, this is my welcome to my childhood. Ya know, I’m really good friends, you know that. 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, I love that.


Katherine May  43:36

I’m actually I’m writing a little piece of art midwinter at the moment, that’s going to be an audio book.


Kate Bowler  43:41

May I introduce Jerry bowler.


Katherine May  43:43

But, but I love. I love what we do in that darkness. 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 bloom 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 Bowler  44:32

Llike that so much. In case I have accidentally frame this in a very individualistic way.


Katherine May  44:39



Kate Bowler  44:40

You do believe that 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 I made a look I made my life so meaningful. Look at me, and the more meaningful I become the more interest seeing I become.


Katherine May  45:01

Look how good I am.


Kate Bowler  45:02

And then it evolved and then we evolve always toward the sun. And we don’t we sometimes grow in the wrong direction, and you’re like, it’s really true.


Katherine May  45:09

I mean, I think that we don’t know how to do community very well anymore we think we do, but we really don’t. And it’s vital. It’s vital to our sense of, well, so many things, but safety but, but 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 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’ve 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, 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 to solve, because that means us shifting away from our life. 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 Bowler  46:49

My friend Sam Wells is the pastor. Using more Anglican words. Thicker, reaching for it, Gregor, learning on the spot he has a he has a clerical collar. He at St. Martin in the Fields, and he’s a delight. And he was talking about yesterday, the difference between associations and institutions, and it with 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 have a much wider and then sometimes, well, like depending on how people are that it’s there are fewer entry ways to get in. But then sometimes then fewer ways in which people know how to connect unless they.


Katherine May  47:55

Few entries to get in, but fewer exits out anyway.


Kate Bowler  47:59

Yes, that’s exactly me.


Katherine May  48:00

Harder for it to reject you, yes.


Kate Bowler  48:03

Yeah, so he’s 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 an.


Katherine May  48:12

Interested in that and I have so little, you know, understanding of it really, I mean, I think it’s interesting to compare the US and the UK and church going 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 will […] that’s it, you go to your closest church, you know, and so I know that 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 an I’m part of that community just by dint of living nearby I don’t think we often think about choice, some.


Kate Bowler  48:51

As a personality test, but in the States and they can be Association institution become the same thing in which we know that you’re a birdwatcher, because you go. Church donation much when 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 in which has been very big tent, and it’s one of the last big tent experiments denominationally that has, it’s still being attempted, because so many others collapsed. And it’s been really bumpy, but it is it creates always a sense of awe in me for anybody to try to be bigger than their preferences.


Katherine May  49:36

Yeah, it’s so interesting I mean, I’d love to work more in this area but I think how do we make that tent even bigger is one of the big questions because I mean, obviously, God, this is gonna 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 bigger tent than 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 will agree with everything that that mainstream society agrees with, then 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, 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 that people that stick with those places, when they feel rejected by them and dig in and say, you know, I’m going to make you hear me like that’s an incredible thing to do and it’s something that I have to do.


Kate Bowler  51:15

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, so 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 when we hope to each other sounds like it is. It is the thing that is like constantly creating like tendrils that will wrap around things and I like to trusting.


Katherine May  51:58

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 Bowler  52:08

That’s usl, but remind me so much of this this little 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 altering 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 May  52:33

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?


Kate Bowler  52:43

Yeah, you my dear are a delight. Thank you so much for doing this with me.


Katherine May  52:49

That was really fun, thank you. I could have talked about that for hours sorry.


Kate Bowler  53:01

Katherine perfectly describes all the feelings that I hope for, for this community for all of us that in our actual lives, and two 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 favorite retailer. And I’m saying favorite with a you 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. I stand stone still at the edge of disheartened mint. I have nothing but this certainty. Nothing changes. Nothing lasts. I feel hollow. God this world you made his 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 pride for 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 Is 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 fallen behind us. What next? We will say to the night sky, before we close the door, and consider its answer tomorrow. 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. She’s always, 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 kapler.com/advent. 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 Kate bowler.com/newsletter. And if you liked anything this season, wanted to be like this holiday season, but it’s this podcast season. If you wouldn’t mind, it would take just a couple 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. 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 was 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 limonada. 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 Ricci. There is the social worker does everything incredible mind Harriet Putman the sound guru Keith Weston, our artistic genius Gwen Higginbotham our pastoral heart and financial mastermind grinton. Brenda Thompson, our typist student and all round everything hope Anderson, our wonderful researcher Kristen Bowser, our social media mastermind and the kind of person who on ironically says things like off the dome, Jeff Burt, and associate dean and all round problems offer Catherine Smith. These are the amazing people who make all this home. Alright, my dears. I will talk to you in the new year. But in the meantime, come find me online at Katie bowler. This is Everything Happens with me Kate Bowler and that’s a wrap for season 11.

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