Report by Meghan Laakso
“Ruminate: to chew the cud; to muse; to meditate; to think again; to ponder.” This definition plays a large role in the mission of the magazine though it is not the mission itself. Ruminate, starting in 2006, has spent the last thirteen years dedicating a publication to a “non-profit, reader supported community chewing on the mysteries of life, faith, and art.” Their most current issue holds their most current mission, developed and honed over the years: “We invite slowing down and paying attention. We love laughter. And we delight in deep reading, contemplative activism, telling stories, asking questions, and doing ‘small things with great love’ as Mother Theresa said” (Ruminate, 50th issue). Though faith-based, Ruminate has transformed from a secular style to a broadened pattern of rumination, allowing works from every faith and belief into their magazine, while still upholding their mission. In this, the magazine has taken on a sense of a theopoetic role, offering a sense of sublimity in every issue and work included.
The first issue gives us readers insight into the inspiration behind the start of Ruminate as editor Brianna Van Dyke gives a brief note about the formation and the genesis of the thing. She says, “For us (young graduates, a traveler, a designer, new mothers, a veterinary technician, and a florist) the process of discovering this little magazine was a meal of gulping, with sips and nibbles in between—of chewing the cud we had created. After many prayers and puzzling over ideas and proposals for weeks, we noticed that our ultimate aim was to reveal faith in art. We decided this was a good aim and kept going. And through this our vision materialized, the title was chosen, and our first issue’s theme ‘Chewing on Life’ surfaced” (Ruminate, Issue 1). The editors of Ruminate have stuck to this starting induction, maintaining their mission to reveal faith in art through allowing it to grow out of itself and fit into the needs of society, welcoming all who provided work that invited deep thinking, that required rumination.
The dedication to their mission might be one of the most notable characteristics of the magazine as it has remained consistent with the works they publish and in how they contribute to the writing community around them. The magazine’s website is incredibly updated and chic, allowing easy access to various different tabs and allowing the eye to fit the natural glance. In their shop tab, they have provided purchasable downloads and hard copies of all their issues for complete access to their collection. In their shop tab they also have workshop and retreat events for sale, allowing the writing community to grow both personally and artistically. The editors of Ruminate give them the opportunity to collaborate with professionals in an intentional space. Their willingness to do so comments on their mission to “do small things with great love.” By involving themselves in the lives of the community around them, they are opening up opportunity for great art to be breathed in and chewed over.
Though not associated with a school, their style is consistent with theopoetics, allowing faith to be found in poems that might have nothing to do with religion or belief. Though there are strong Christian themes in many of the poems, most also seemingly stand alone, allowing the reader to find their own faith-filled meaning. For example, in issue forty-six, the poem “Yesterday, As If Swimming”, written by Cameron Alexander Lawrence, utilizes vivid sensory details that call on specific memories and feelings, calling the reader back to “sniffling at the downy nape of May” (46). The utilization of nature paired with intense sensory detail and personal experience allows for a sublimity in the human experience whether you believe in a God or not.
It is easy to say that Ruminate is loved deeply by the readers who subscribe and support. As an independent non profit, the magazine uses the proceeds from reader subscriptions to continue publishing. However, in October of 2015, the magazine believed it was going to go under. A series of blog posts written by the editors and some loved readers in the community made claims for the life of the magazine, commenting on the impact it has made in their lives, allowing them to “slow down, read deeply, and live awake.” Acclaimed author Angela Doll Carlson was one of these bloggers attempting to save the magazine in the midst of the financial crisis. In her post, “Save Ruminate: Living and Dying and Making A Difference,” Carlson writes,
“Letting this magazine fall into the waters and not surface again is a loss that is felt at the deepest levels by people who read and imbibe the words there like vitamins, like minerals, like meat. These words sustain us, they bolster us, they fuel us well and whether you realize it or not, the loss makes us all weaker. The loss of good creative work, deep and beautiful work, wears on our communal immune system. We need Ruminate Magazine because we're weary and worn down and words matter, art matters.”
A few months before October 2015, an editor’s note in the Spring 2015 issue had Van Dyke considering all of the hats she wears and the responsibilities on her plate as she imagined “a cloth of despair draped across my chest, a cloth too heavy for breath, for lungs, for air” (Ruminate, issue 34). This seems to be a moment of foreshadowing the instability coming later that year but also speaks to the love and dedication Van Dyke feels for this little magazine. Her drive, fight, and passion led her and her team to raise $40,000 in ten days from over 500 donations and seventy new subscriptions. This incredible feat not only saved the magazine, but also speaks to the significance they hold in the lives of many. The idea of losing this magazine struck so many people that in less than two weeks, over half of their goal was met and they were able to continue publishing.
The magazine itself is visually and tactilely appealing. The pages are thick and glossy and the more recent issues are bound like a book rather than a magazine. The issues consist of poetry, prose, pictures, art work, and creative non-fiction. Their 50th issue titled “What Sustains” holds almost one hundred pages of beautiful work that stand alone but create a narrative within the magazine. It also has photos and paintings breaking up the literature, allowing breathing room from the overwhelming sense of words on a page.
There is some conversation about the mission and work of this magazine being a little too safe, too afraid to push boundaries. When Rebecca Shwarz looked into the magazine back in 2014 to 2015, she claims that the magazine is appealing within the core audience but is afraid to follow through on the big questions asked, only skimming the surface of daring content. She says, “This magazine seems to aspire to be daring, but while many pieces touch on Big Questions, they don’t really plumb the depths. So, stacking Ruminate against the larger landscape of art/literary magazines, I find it wanting” (Shwarz, 2015). This review seems to hold an extremely critical view of the mission of the magazine and does not appear to give the reader any credit. If anything, I believe those “Big Questions” that go unanswered are those of sublime realization, moments that do not necessarily need answers but require slowing down, deep reading, and living awake as a way to process and learn about the life we live in and the people around us. Leaving these questions unanswered allows the reader to then make their own conclusions, to ruminate on the sublimity of art and faith, and to recognize the small things that are done with great love.
Carlson, Angela Doll. "Save Ruminate: Living and Dying and Making a Difference." Ruminate Magazine, 29 Oct. 2015, www.ruminatemagazine.com/blogs/ruminate-living-and-dying-and-making-a-difference.
"Faith-Oriented Lit Mag Asks Big Questions Without Pushing Boundaries." The Review Review, www.thereviewreview.net/reviews/faith-oriented-lit-mag-asks-big-questions-without-pu.
Lawrence, Cameron Alexander. "Yesterday, As If Swimming." Ruminate, Issue 46, p. 46, 2018.
Van Dyke, Brianna. Editor's Note. Ruminate, Issue 01, p. 6, 2006.
Van Dyke, Brianna. Editor's Note. Ruminate, Issue 34, p. 4, 2015.