Doug McKelvey participated in the early work of Charlie Peacock’s Art House Foundation, an organization dedicated to a shared exploration of faith and the arts. In the decades since, he has worked as an author, song lyricist, scriptwriter, and video director. He has penned more than 350 lyrics recorded by a variety of artists including Switchfoot, Kenny Rogers, Sanctus Real, and Jason Gray. His works include The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog (illustrated by Zach Franzen), The Wishes of the Fish King (illustrated by Jamin Still), Subjects with Objects (with Jonathan Richter), and Stories We Shared: A Family Book Journal (with Jamin Still). Most recently he unveiled Every Moment Holy (Rabbit Room Press), a collection of contemporary liturgies for the ordinary events of daily life, reminding us that our lives are shot through with sacred purpose even when, especially when, we are too busy or too caught up in our busyness to notice. Doug is about to release his second volume of liturgies, appropriately titled, Every Moment Holy, Volume II – Death, Grief, and Hope. And it is specifically focused on the strange and challenging season the world finds itself in.
Mike Parker: Coming from a non-liturgical denominational background, I admit the whole concept of liturgy seemed foreign to me; ancient, dusty, out of date, and perhaps even irrelevant to my life. Then I started reading Every Moment Holy, and I simply can’t get through one liturgy without tearing up. Still, I have to assume that pitching a book of contemporary liturgies must have been a challenge. What was the process of getting Every Moment Holy published like, and how has it been received?
Doug McKelvey: It is a concept that could have been a hard sell to a lot of publishers. But because the vision of the book was consistent with the vision of Rabbit Room, it resonated with that press from the very beginning. They had already seen some of the liturgies I had written. They had already used some of them with the broader Rabbit Room community. It was already clear that the concept would resonate with that community. In that sense it was an easy book to get published.
Parker: The writing of liturgies doesn’t seem to fall into the same skill set as say, writing a novel or a Bible study or a magazine article. How do you prepare for that process?
McKelvey: I didn’t consciously prepare for that process, but once I started writing liturgies, I realized how essential my vocation as a song lyricist was to the process. It is about the process of distilling the meaning, the scriptural truths, into a small amount of space. When you are used to writing song lyrics and trying to communicate a big idea in a small space, I don’t think there could have been better training. I’ve taking various screenwriting courses, which is a genre where you have to choose the essential elements to communicate an entire scene. It is a discipline of learning to say a lot in a small and aesthetically pleasing manner. It is only in looking back on my career path that I can see how I had the tools to undertake this project.
Parker: You are following up the first volume, which targets moments in everyday life, with a second volume that focuses specifically on finding hope in the midst of death and grieving. Why that direction for this book?
McKelvey: I don’t have a lot of patience for anything that is happy-clappy. As a fiction writer I tend to put my protagonists in really horrible situations, then follow them to see what comes of it. As a follower of Christ, and as a believer that the scripture is true, I want to know that what I believe is strong enough to hold me in the worst possible situations. And if it’s not, I don’t want to waste my time. When I write, I’m putting the flesh of story on the bones of what I believe to be true. In the process I’m working out my own journey of faith, with a measure of fear and trembling. I’m trying to find my way through to the heart of what the Gospel is, and the hope of redemption of all the grief and hurts that we endure.
In relation to the book, Volume I is very broad, kind of a shotgun approach of moments in life, and how the practice of our vocations intersects with the advancement of the kingdom of God—whether that be changing a diaper or going on a camping trip. After Volume I was finished, I realized there were no liturgies relating to deep loss and grief. That stayed with me, and I realized I needed to write those because people would need them. It was a daunting subject to approach the writing of, and I pondered whether I even had any right to address such a deep need.
Probably a year after Volume I was finished, I decided to write a liturgy for deep grief, and it just took on a life of it’s own. I realized it was more than just a single prayer, but a collection of prayers. Then it grew into prayers for people who were consoling people who were going through deep loss, and for people who are facing their mortality. There are just so many facets to death and grief and deep loss. At that point I realized it was a book, not just a handful of prayers. It ended up being a two-year process. It ended up being 70-80 pages longer than Volume I.
Parker: Who is this book for?
McKelvey: The church. It is for all of us. It was created for those who are walking through seasons of loss and grief and dying. It is for caregivers serving those who are dying or grieving. It has those specific applications.
But from the outset I know this was not a book I could write outside of community, particularly those who were walking through those seasons of loss and grief themselves. That was essential in shaping the book. In addition to being in conversation with people going through this season, I read a lot of books about the grieving/dying process. One of the things I began to realize was that there was a time when the western church used to do a lot better job of articulating a theology of dying; that even through the process of dying you are serving that community in the way you follow Christ during that season; that you are giving witness to the outworking of the eternal truths that you believe, giving substance to them. There is a sense that the western church doesn’t really know how to talk about death. But we were baptized into Christ’s death. When we come to our last breath it is one more step in the process of laying down those lesser things to completely embrace Christ. So, in addition to being something offered for the comfort and encouragement of those who are walking through those seasons, it might also have value in the church to help with those conversations that we tend to avoid, to be a starting point for us to rethink how we approach these things.
Parker: What’s next for Doug McKelvey?
McKelvey: I hope to get a novel finished this year. I don’t like to go too long without working on fiction. I also want to begin working on the next EMH volume, to be more disciplined to make steady progress even while working on different projects.
Visit Doug McKelvey online at https://www.everymomentholy.com/