Mystics and Misfits: An Interview with Christiana Peterson

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sheloves mag red couch interviews christiana peterson -mystics and misfits

Even though I love the genre of memoir, it’s rare for me to read one and really connect with the author. I usually enjoy them for a differing point of view or a perspective I hadn’t considered. While I’ve never lived in an intentional community and have only spent a month of my life farming, I finished Mystics and Misfits by Christiana Peterson and wished we could go for a walk and dig deeper. Her debut memoir is an invitation to explore the saints and misfits of the Christian faith in new ways, to examine what living in community actually looks like, and to pause and reconsider how we interact with our faith. Christiana’s story captured me and helped me think about my own practices in new ways.

She’s graciously taken the time to answer a few of my questions to help us get to know her and Mystics and Misfits a bit more. I hope you enjoy and connect!

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Annie: Welcome to The Red Couch Book Club! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your book, Mystics and Misfits.

Christiana: Hi, I’m so thrilled to be here! Mystics and Misfits emerged from the 8 years my family and I spent in a Mennonite intentional community on a farm in the Midwest. In the midst of some emotional turmoil and outside stresses, I was drawn to the mystics who gave me some language to explore what I was discovering about simplicity, hospitality, contemplation, community and even death. So I started dialoguing with those mystics in very personal letters while telling the story of my experience of community.

I’ve written at places like Christianity Today, Christian Century, SheLoves, and Art House America about farm life, fairytales, community life, and grief. I live now with my husband and our kids in Ohio where I spend my time writing, wrangling four children, reading YA novels, leading worship, and trying to figure out how to live a mystical faith in a new context.

Your faith journey is a bit of a patchwork of Catholic, Mennonite, and Evangelical traditions. In Mystics and Misfits, you weave these denominations into your journey of discovering mystics and saints. How would you describe your spirituality today? What is currently influencing your walk?

I would say that my spirituality is still an assortment of things I learned growing up in the Church of Christ, along with the spiritual practices of the ancient church, and an Anabaptist understanding of Jesus and the upside down kingdom.

Your daughter’s experience at a Catholic preschool helped form a curiosity around the saints. How are you continuing this exploration as your children grow? Are they still at a Catholic school? How do you incorporate the saints into your family’s spiritual life?

When we moved from Illinois where we lived in community, we sent our kids to a local public school. My husband is now the pastor of a small Mennonite congregation in Ohio where my children are among the small number of kids in our church. Because there aren’t very many children at church, we do a lot of worshipping together as a family: my husband and the kids are memorizing the Sermon on the Mount, we sing songs most evenings from all of these different traditions, we read Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals, and we do prayer with our kids using a book called Imaginative Prayer by Jared Patrick Boyd that introduces the contemplative aspects of prayer while teaching them (and us) the imaginative possibilities of prayer. We are hoping to teach our kids that prayer can and should incorporate our whole selves: our memories, our bodies, our hearts and our minds.

I still love to read and explore what the mystics have to teach me. And I’m learning about new mystics all the time. I met Karen Wright Marsh at the Festival of Faith and Writing and her book Vintage Saints and Sinners introduced me to a female mystic-preacher by the name of Amanda Berry Smith. Recently, I’ve also been reading about the Beguines, a group of lay -women mystics in the 13-16th centuries in Europe who didn’t take formal vows but still wanted to live a little monastically.

Your interludes and letters to various mystics were like treats scattered throughout your book. You highlight St. Francis, Dorothy Day, Margery Kempe, Clare of Assisi, and Simone Weil. Were there any mystics you had to leave out? If space weren’t limited who else would you include?

Yes! Thank you for asking this and I’m glad you saw them as treats. There are so many amazing and weird mystics to discover: Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, Julian of Norwich, and Howard Thurman were a few that I mentioned briefly in my book but I didn’t have the space to explore further. As I said earlier, I was thrilled to learn of some mystics and misfits from the Festival of Faith and Writing like Harriet Powers (a farm-wife and former slave who preached through her quilts) and Amanda Berry Smith.

Your story finishes with a move to a new state and a new community. There was a sense of longing for the intentionality of Plow Creek as you began this new adventure. Now that some time has passed, what lessons from intentional living have you found easy to implement into this new community? How did your experience at Plow Creek shape the way you initially connected with new people?

Well, to be honest, it hasn’t even been a year since we left Plow Creek so I’m still recovering from the move and grief and learning how to be a mother of four children in this new place. Just after we moved away from Plow Creek, I had to write a review for a book on intentional community. I found it pretty painful to be leaving a community while reading a book that was championing the benefits of the kind of community we left behind. So the honest answer is that I’m not sure yet what how the things we learned at Plow Creek will manifest in our life now.

The one thing I have begun to notice is how intentional community made my husband and me very comfortable with vulnerability, both in ourselves and in others. I think that our more traditional communities aren’t always accustomed to making space for our messiness. But opening ourselves up to each other actually helps us all feel less alone and more connected with one another.

What’s next for you as a writer? How can we best connect with you?

I might dip my toe back into YA fiction soon but right now I’m enjoying launching this new book and looking for spaces that are interested in hosting more conversations about the mystics, deeper community, and being misfits in the church. If you’re interested in having those conversations with me, you can find me at christiananpeterson.com, on Twitter, or email me at christiananoelwrites@gmail.com.

Thank you, Christiana for sharing a bit of the story of Mystics and Misfits. We look forward to hearing more from you!

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Annie Rim
I live in Colorado where I play with my daughters, hike with my husband, and write about life & faith. I have taught in the classroom, at an art museum, and now in the playroom. I am honored to lead the Red Couch Book Club here at SheLoves. You can connect with me on Twitter & Instagram @annie_rim or on my blog: annierim.com.
Annie Rim