On Being with Krista Tippett

A Peabody Award-winning public radio show and podcast. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? And who will we be to each other? Each week a new discovery about the immensity of our lives. Hosted by Krista Tippett.

You’ll also find special episodes in this feed, including Living the Questions — an occasional On Being segment where Krista muses on questions from our listening community.

On Being with Krista Tippett airs on more than 400 public radio stations across the U.S. and is distributed by WNYC Studios. The podcast has been played/downloaded more than 200 million times.

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In so many stories and fables that shape us, cold and snow, the closing in of the light — these have deep psychological as much as physical reality. This is “wintering,” as the English writer Katherine May illuminates in her beautiful, meditative book of that title — wintering as at once a season of the natural world, a respite our bodies require, and a state of mind. It’s one way to describe our pandemic year: as one big extended communal experience of wintering. Some of us are laboring harder than ever on its front lines and also on its home front of parenting. All of us are exhausted. This conversation with Katherine May helps.

Our colleague Lucas Johnson catches up with one of his mentors, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons. Now a member of the National Council of Elders, she was a teenager when she joined the Mississippi Freedom Summer. She shares what she has learned about exhaustion and self-care, spiritual practice and community, while engaging in civil rights organizing and deep social healing. Dr. Simmons was raised Christian and later converted to the Sufi tradition of Islam.

It feels good and right this week to sit with the beloved writer Nikki Giovanni’s signature mix of high seriousness, sweeping perspective, and insistent pleasure. In the 1960s, she was a poet of the Black Arts Movement that nourished civil rights. She’s also a professor at Virginia Tech, where she brought beauty and courage after the 2007 shooting there. And she’s an adored voice to a new generation — an enthusiastic elder to us all — at home in her body and in the world of her lifetime even while she sees and delights in the beyond of it.

“Having tasted beauty at the heart of the world, we hunger for more.” These are words from Nobel physicist Frank Wilczek in his book, A Beautiful Question. It’s a winsome, joyful meditation on the question: Do cosmic realities embody beautiful ideas? — probing the world, by way of science, as a work of art. He reminds us that time and space, mystery and order, are so much stranger and more generous than we can comprehend. He’s now written a wonderful new book, Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality.

Underpinning all the great challenges of our time there is the human drama, the human condition. And as we move beyond 2020, we turn to Mary Catherine Bateson to help us understand the puzzle of being ourselves, of rising to our best capacities and gifts, in all of our complexity and strangeness. She is the daughter of the great anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, and she is a linguist and anthropologist herself.

Gaelynn Lea’s voice and violin land like a balm — an offering of both clarity and gladness that can still be mustered in this midwinter, this upended Christmas season. She first came to the attention of many when she won NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Contest in 2016. This fiddler and singer-songwriter moves through the world in an electric wheelchair, and plays the violin like a cello because of the disability she was born with — a genetic condition that has made her bones more breakable. So much of what she’s learned through life in her body lands as wisdom, right now.

“We are indebted to one another and the debt is a kind of faith — a beautiful, difficult, strange faith. We believe each other into being.” That’s the message the philosopher, poet, and historian, Jennifer Michael Hecht, puts at the center of her unusual writing about suicide. She’s traced how Western civilization has, at times, demonized those who died by suicide, and, at times, celebrated it as a moral freedom. She has struggled with suicidal places in her life and lost friends to it. She proposes a new cultural understanding based on our essential need for each other.

We’re in a tender spiritual moment, widely feeling our need for re-grounding both alone and together. By way of the Almighty force of Zoom, Krista engages a forward-looking conversation with two religious thinkers and spiritual leaders from very different places on the U.S. Christian and cultural spectrum: Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry and Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention. Through their friendship as much as their words, they model what they preach. The Washington National Cathedral and the National Institute for Civil Discourse brought us all together.

How to embrace what’s right and corrective, redemptive and restorative — and an insistence that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve done — these are gifts Bryan Stevenson offers with his life. He’s brought the language of mercy and redemption into American culture in recent years, growing out of his work as a lawyer to people unfairly on death row, people who are mentally ill and incarcerated, and children tried as adults. Krista draws out his spirit and his moral imagination.

We’ve realized in 2020 that the way we’ve organized culture — from the economy to race to work — could be done radically differently. We’ve been modeling our life together on “survival of the fittest” long after science itself moved on from that. And we’re learning to see that in every sphere of life we inhabit ecosystems. Agustín Fuentes brings spacious insight into all of this as a biological and evolutionary anthropologist, exploring how humans behave, function, and change together. In this conversation, he is full of refreshingly creative and practical fodder for the necessary reinvention ahead.

The Cuban American civil engineer turned writer, Richard Blanco, straddles the many ways a sense of place merges with human emotion to make home and belonging — personal and communal. The most recent — and very resonant — question he’s asked by way of poetry is: how to love a country? At Chautauqua, Krista invited him to speak and read from his books. Blanco’s wit, thoughtfulness, and elegance captivated the crowd.

Rabbi Sacks was one of the world’s deepest thinkers on religion and the challenges of modern life. He died last week after a short battle with cancer. When Krista spoke with him in 2010, he modeled a life-giving, imagination-opening faithfulness to what some might see as contradictory callings: How to be true to one’s own convictions while also honoring the sacred and civilizational calling to shared life — indeed, to love the stranger?

We are called to consider who we want to be as a people and what kind of world we will build with and for our children. Karen Murphy has been gathering wisdom for this juncture, as she’s worked around the world with teachers and educators in societies moving toward repair after histories of violence. We learn from her about how to prepare ourselves in the U.S. for the civic healing that we are called to ahead.

The U.S. election will be over soon but this year has surfaced deep human challenges that remain our callings — and possibilities for growth — for the foreseeable future. So this week and next, we’re taking the long view — first with journalist John Biewen, on the stories of our families and hometowns, what it means to be human, and what it means to be white. This conversation between Krista and John starts simply — tracing the racial story of our time through the story of a single life. It’s an exercise each of us can do. And it is a step toward a more whole and humane world, starting with ourselves.

How can we keep walking forward, and even find renewal along the way, in this year of things blown apart? How can we hold to our sense of what is whole and true and undamaged, even in the face of loss? These are some of the questions Sharon Salzberg, a renowned teacher of meditation and Buddhist practices, has been taking up in virtual retreats this year, which have helped ground many — including Krista — on hard days. She teaches how to stay present to the world while learning kindness toward yourself.

An hour to sit with, and be filled. Two voices — one from the last century, one from ours — who inspire inward contemplation as an essential part of meeting the challenges in the world. Howard Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited, it was said, was carried by Martin Luther King Jr. alongside the Bible and the U.S. Constitution. Thurman is remembered as a philosopher and theologian, a moral anchor, a contemplative, a prophet, and pastor to the civil rights leaders. Rev. Otis Moss III, himself the son of one of those leaders, is a bridge to Thurman’s resonance in the present day, and between the Black freedom movements then and now.

After Arlie Hochschild published her book Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, just before the 2016 election, it came to feel prescient. And the conversation Krista had with her in 2018 has now come to point straight to the heart of 2020 — a year in which many of us might say we feel like strangers in our own land and in our own world. Hochschild created a field within sociology looking at the social impact of emotion. She explains how our stories and truths — what we try to debate as issues in our social and political lives — are felt, not merely factual. And she shares why, as a matter of pragmatism, we have to take emotion seriously and do what feels unnatural: get curious and caring about the other side.

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