Just over 10 years ago, Manitoban Alana Levandoski was a rising star in the North American roots-folk music scene.
She had a recording deal with Rounder Records, one of the leading independent record labels, was doing concerts in North America and Europe, and was co-writing songs with artists like Sylvia Tyson.
"I was climbing up the music career ladder," said the 41-year-old from her 80-acre farm in Onanole, Man., where she lives with her husband, Ian, and their two children, four and six years old.
"Things were really starting to take off."
But in 2010 she had what she calls "a dark night of the soul over a long stretch of time" and left her musical career behind.
There were many reasons for the departure, but a main one was being tired of dealing with the patriarchal attitudes of the male-dominated record industry.
"I didn’t feel there was a lot of space for women," she said, adding she also experienced sexual harassment.
Added to that was a miscarriage and losing a close relationship. "I was burning out," she said.
Then Levandoski, who grew up in an evangelical church in western Manitoba, heard what she calls "the spirit speaking," calling her to take a break from music to focus on her spiritual life.
She went to live at St. Benedict’s Monastery north of Winnipeg for a period of silence and contemplation. While there, she spent time reading about the Christian desert fathers and mothers, men and women who sought God in the wilderness.
Reading about those ancient Christians "gave me a language, a way to deal with austere times of loss and deafening silences," she said.
Refreshed, she left the monastery for a six-month pilgrimage to recover her enthusiasm for music, living out of her car while attending and playing at festivals from Newfoundland to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
"I wanted to fall back in love with music," she said, adding she also wanted to find a way to incorporate music into her newfound sense of contemplative and mystical spirituality. "The language of contemplation was thrumming in my heart," she said.
The result is a new musical career that brings together her interest and involvement in spirituality, contemplation, mystery and Christian faith, creating what calls "music’s illuminating power to catch glimpses of incarnation in and through all of life."
Her first album in her new career path was Behold I Make All Things New, which came out in 2015. Through it, she sought to tell the Christian story in a way that showed God is everywhere in the world — an "album that was seeping with incarnation."
"That was a really important project for me," said Levandoski, noting so much of Christianity in North America has become so commercialized, materialistic and nationalistic.
"The mystery is gone," from the faith, she said, adding she wanted to make an album for those who wanted a new way to experience Christ and go deeper into their spirituality.
Since that time Levandoski has gone on to make four other albums. This includes her latest titled Hymn to the Icons, which will be released November 15 on CD and streaming platforms.
Produced at her home studio during the pandemic, when all her concerts were cancelled and she had more time, it’s a tribute to artists like Leonard Cohen, Rascal Flatts, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.
"These are the iconic singing legends, the huge shoulders I stand on," she said.
To her friend and co-musician Steve Bell, Levandoski is "a person of profound spiritual intelligence, a master songwriter and a dynamic performer. She’s a widely-read contemplative, an ally to the injured and a lover of the true, the good and the beautiful."
Added Rachel Twigg Boyce, co-pastor at st. benedict’s table Anglican church, which Levandoski considers her home congregation: "I have continued to enjoy getting to know Alana as a friend, wise guide, and artist. She is a person with a passion to learn, grow, and deepen. Through her writing, music, and online reflections she inspires others to do the same."
As for Levandoski, she sees herself "as a seeker. I love sacred mystical tradition. I’m trying to live counter to the nationalistic and materialistic Christianity that is so common today."
She hopes the new album will especially resonate during the pandemic, a time when normal life is on hold and people have more time and quiet on their hands.
Even this time of COVID-19 can be incarnate, she said, adding "if we could but lean into it, without idle chatter at least once a day during this time, we could dial in to what is really real ... I think the songs collectively intuit a great presence that is closer to us than we are to ourselves, a presence that is too close to see."
For more information, or to order Levandoski’s new album, visit www.alanalevandoski.com.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.