To Hear the Mourning Doves Sing

On May 20,2019, Wipf and Stock Publishers, through their Imprint, Resource Publications, released my latest book, The Call of the Mourning Dove: How Sacred Sound Awakens Mystical Unity. It is a slightly edited version of my thesis written in fulfillment of my Doctor of Ministry degree from Andover Newton Theological School (now Andover Newton Seminary at Yale) in 2017. I am grateful to report that it was awarded the Frederick Buechner Award for Excellence in Writing at my graduation. In addition, I am honored to say that my former theology professor, the esteemed Dr. S. Mark Heim, has written the Forward, my former Dean, Dr. Sarah B. Drummond, provided an endorsement for the back cover, and my former academic advisor, Dr. Jenifer Howe Peace, was instrumental in promoting the book to Wipf and Stock Publishers, a well-respected academic publisher.

More importantly, this book is a testimony, grounded in research as well as mysticism, to what has long been my experience: that sacred sound is a portal into the heart of God, the silent mystery just beyond understanding, where we are touched by what we cannot name or speak, and left quiet and still, quivering with awe. And, nothing is the same.

While this book was written largely for an academic audience, I have made ever effort to write it in such a way as to both illuminate the heart as well as stimulate the mind. Whatever you come away feeling or thinking, I can assure you that you will not be left where you began.

Below is an excerpt from the Preface, added to the original work, an excerpt from the Introduction and the full Conclusion. May they give you a taste for more! If so, go to Wipf and Stock Publishers to “Look Inside” and order your copy. The link is:

Enjoy…and know I always enjoy hearing from you!

Excerpt from the Preface

I always knew God was right where I couldn’t quite see. I knew because I could hear him through those slightly off-key voices singing loud and unencumbered to the old piano in my hometown church. I saw him in the eyes of that homeless man, the one with the sign, looking at me as I nervously waited for the stoplight to change. I could feel him shaking in the fingers of the elderly clerk, reaching from behind the counter, giving me change at the corner five and dime.

So, when I went in search for God, I didn’t go first to books or lectures or to hear more sermons. I didn’t want to learn about God. I didn’t want an intermediary. No. I wanted my own unmitigated experience of God. So, instead, I sought out teachers from a variety of faith traditions and asked each to teach me how to find God. With guidance and support, I took to my prayer mat and began to fervently pray, intoning the sacred practices from the ancient cannons. And, along the way, I did indeed, most graciously, find God, again and again, right where I would have never thought to look—waiting right there in the silence—just beyond my understanding. Intoning the ancient practices in their original languages, across faith traditions, brought me, again and again, to the same portal leaving me silent, humble and filled with awe—at the feet of God—the same God—showing me definitively, graciously, that indeed, many are the ways we pray to him.

The new paradigm, the Sonic Trilogy of Love, explored in this book, represents most succinctly this discovery. “How can this be?” you may ask as faith traditions surely hold varying ontological beliefs about the nature of God. True. Yet, as those who’ve long explored one particular tradition, as well as those who are exploring across traditions, enter into the Sonic Trilogy of Love to intone the ancient practices, each creates the conditions for an unmitigated experience of God. In this way, the Sonic Trilogy of Love becomes a paradigm of unification, capable of holding the healthy tension that exists between particularity defining religious difference and the ubiquitous mystical experience engendering religious unity. The Sonic Trilogy of Love invites all seekers, one and all, home.  

Excerpt from the Introduction

Bless us with a divine voice

that we may tune the harp strings of our life

to sing songs of Love to you.

Inspired by the Rig Veda

Change is in the wind. Western attitudes about religion, about God, have been steadily evolving led, in part, by a new demographic of seekers who describe their world view as “spiritual,” not “religious.”[1] No longer content to be passive recipients of the same liturgies, sermons, and homilies, no longer invested in the rituals gone rote, these “spiritual but not religious” seekers are leaving on a quest for God. Aspiring ministerial leaders and concerned lay people alike would do well to embrace this change as I believe it is an opportunity to reignite relevance, meaning and passion. As the great philosopher Rabindranath Tagore reminded us, “The winds of grace are always blowing, but it is you who must raise your sails.”[2] It is time.

Where to begin? One way is already in the very hands of religious leaders and lay people alike, so close, perhaps, they may have missed it. Right there, within the rich texture of the historical “religious” canon, lie the very practices that can serve as the portal into the “spiritual” connection these modern-day seekers are craving. Christians may find this portal when mentally engaging a sacred word or phrase in the depths of contemplative prayer practice. Jews may find it when reciting portions of the Torah or the Psalms in Hebrew. Muslims may find it when chanting the ninety-nine beautiful names of Allah in Arabic. And of course, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs, to name just a few, have long found it when chanting their sacred texts in mantra meditation. The common denominator? Sound.

As seekers across faith traditions engage the sound of God in spiritual practice, each may enter the portal into their own unmitigated experience of the divine. Whether mentally engaging a sacred word in contemplative prayer or chanting aloud according to an ancient script, the fruits of practice begin to answer a longing, a not-so-silent cry within, as the sound of God reverberates through the inner chambers, tuning and awakening seekers to that which was previously unknown. Wondrously, if only in passing moments, seekers may start to get just a glimpse of that which is beyond understanding, to suddenly see themselves as God sees them. And if so, nothing is the same.

In this book, I offer a new paradigm based on this sonic aspect of the divine, the Sonic Trilogy of Love, that explores just how sacred sound becomes the portal into this unmitigated experience of God. Here, identifying love as the core organizing principle, I describe the inter-relational dynamics between us, the Lovers, practitioners; the Love, sacred sound; and the Beloved, God. As the Lover, practitioner, engages the Love, sacred sound emanating from the sacred canon, conditions are set for unity with the Beloved, God. In such moments, the distinctions between the Lover, Love and Beloved dissolve in mystical unity. Finally, I show how such an experience, awakening personal transcendence within, engenders a sense of mystical unity without, embracing all creation.

The Conclusion

Lovers across faith traditions share a fierce yearning for God. While beliefs and practices differ, what ignites the human heart to quest for the unknowable, the holy, the mystery just beyond understanding, is the same. Today this quest is being most loudly articulated by those identifying as “spiritual but not religious.” Yet those “traditionally religious” have long journeyed, labored, and aspired to know God within the lineages of ancient, sacred traditions. While, on the surface, it would appear that Lovers from these two groups are moving in different directions, their quest is the same. Within the Sonic Trilogy of Love, all Lovers encounter the epic human journey inherent in the quest for God, as well as moments of mystical unity inherent in the universality of the experience of God.

In order for there to be such universality in the experience of God, there must be, ontologically, universal elements within the One, to which all traditions point, eliciting this common response. Perennial philosophy describes such universal elements, three of which we have highlighted: the assertion of one divine reality; the notion that all of life can be seen as miraculous as soon as the religious view, born of love, becomes dominant; and, the belief that observable practical consequences naturally emanate from religious experience when an individual is in touch with that germinal higher part of himself. The more recent worldview of panentheism has emerged to provide a new context for holding this universality of experience encompassing both the immanent and the transcendent qualities of God. Simply, there is nowhere God is not if the Lover has the eyes to see.

Examining the origins of the historical canons reveals this universality brought forth by the Love, the sound current, embedded within the languages themselves: Hebrew, Sanskrit, Aramaic, and Arabic. The four traditions we have engaged all claim possession of the Word as was originally revealed, yet, as we have seen, each tradition expresses, through the key sacred sound practices, common themes pointing to the One: the Shema, AUM, Awoon dwashmaya, and La illaha illa Allah. Hence, rabbis, swamis, priests or ministers, imams or shaykhs, and Lovers across traditions emerge from the kol demamah dakah, nada, nothingness and nowhere, and hu, humbled with awe and able to speak in the language only Lovers know, silence. Yet now, having experienced just a glimpse of the mystery, each starts to see the face of God everywhere, immanent in stones, flowers, eagles, and in the eyes of neighbors, as well as transcendent in the secrets of those very stones, the silent unfolding of the flower’s petals, the wind lifting the eagle from its nest, and, most of all, in the love igniting our hearts when we pause long enough to see the face of our neighbor.

As Lovers everywhere hear the call of the mourning dove, each is invited to answer and fulfill a unique part in the Beloved’s plan for creation. In doing so, Lovers discover the joy of harmonizing their notes in service to the divine symphony. Wondrously, they realize that unity with all does not dissolve particularity; rather, it requires and celebrates it. As Lovers enter into the Love, the sacred sound practices, within the Sonic Trilogy of Love, they experience a cleansing of all that stands in the way of this unique expression of particularity and, slowly, emerge to sound their own note in service to a greater good known only to the Beloved. It is in this way that Lovers, whether diving deep into the sound currents of a single tradition or engaging sacred sound practices across faith traditions, discover their unique place in God’s creation intimately woven into the web of life. Simply, each is one and all.

As love, that core organizing principle uniting Lover, Love, and Beloved in mystical unity, has its way with us, we hear the call piercing the open sky and we respond as only Lovers can, propelled by a yearning we can’t ignore. Nothing short of feeling the palpable embrace of our Beloved will suffice now. Nothing short of finding our own ecstatic cry escaping unrestrained and free will satisfy. The Love has stirred our awakening and we can hear now the sound of God chiming softly in the wind as we are gently rocked by a kind of lullaby known only to our Beloved.

And, as dusk silently descends, we hear the mourning doves sing.



[1] Murphy, “Emergence of Evolutionary Panentheism,” 191.


[2] Tagore, Hinduism Today, 14.


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6 responses to “To Hear the Mourning Doves Sing

  1. Ahjan

    “The Sonic Trilogy of Love becomes a paradigm of unification, capable of holding the healthy tension that exists between particularity defining religious difference and the ubiquitous mystical experience engendering religious unity. The Sonic Trilogy of Love invites all seekers, one and all, home.”

    Stephanie, I have always found the Mourning Dove’s song to be both haunting and comforting, its call, itself, holding the “healthy tension”. At the core of its expression though is the vibration, and my hope, that we might unify in the Divine Essence at the center.
    Thank you for articulating that which appears to be just beyond the reach of our rational understanding.
    Here is to the common experience of Love in the silence, Mystical Unity! Ahjan

    • Rev. Dr. Stephanie Rutt

      How beautifully you express our common yearning for that “Love in the silence, Mystical Unity!” You have long answered that “haunting and comforting” call of the Mourning Dove and I continue to be blessed to witness…love you!

  2. Carolyn Tobin

    I love this work so much, it brings such life to my soul as I read the words. I’m so grateful for you Stephanie, for your fresh vision and the beauty of your writing that makes me want to try everything you mention, test it, experience God in all her infinite possibilities.
    Can’t wait to get this book.

    • Rev. Dr. Stephanie Rutt

      Dearest Carolyn, it just fills my heart to no end to know how much the work is serving your journey. I so appreciate your “dive in” willingness as, in doing so, you will surely discover the pearl waiting for you in the ocean’s depths…God Bless!

  3. Alexis Eaton

    How lucky am I to have been able to take your online course in which we read and discussed and asked questions about the call of the mourning dove – the sonic trilogy – your dissertation. We shared and bonded over our real life experiences of the ideas and practices you wrote about. I am looking forward to getting my copy in book form!

    • Rev. Dr. Stephanie Rutt

      And what a blessing it was, Alexis, to have you with us. I so love your desire to grapple with the concepts to discover deeper meaning as well as your courage to unlock the treasures of your heart. You are a jewel and a shining example of the equanimity discovered when blending mind and heart on the journey Home…

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