Ash and Starlight

Connecting with God, each other, and ourselves in the broken and beautiful

Ask where it hurts…

A version of this post appeared in my “Monday Manna” newsletter. If you’d like to receive this directly to your inbox, subscribe here.

Good morning, friends ~

I am sending you so much courage and comfort at the start of this new week. I was going to write today about thresholds, but that will wait for next time. There’s been a lot to hold recently, especially last Friday. I’m still very much processing the news from the Supreme Court, but what I will say now is this. In the vortex of emotions, I’ve been turning to the beautiful voice of Ruby Sales and her question— “where does it hurt?”

On Saturday morning, I laced up my running shoes and re-listened to an interview she did some years ago.This hero and public theologian in the Civil Rights Movement believes asking one another this question is how we break bondage, cross divides, and actually move forward. We look into the eyes of the person we struggle to understand, the choices which mar our sense of humanity, and we ask, “where does it hurt?” Where is the pain? What is driving this?

We peel back layers, one at a time, and ask if we can share some space safe enough for vulnerably seeing one another. Behind fear, behind violence, behind oppression is always, always, always pain. And redemptive anger is always about transformation, holy trust, and unshakeable love. 

As Ruby, the one who was shot at as a teenager marching in peaceful protest, said, “I love everybody. I love everybody. I love everybody in my heart.” 

When the surrounding overwhelm gets bigger my prayers/pleas get simpler. My repeated prayers-turned-mantras in these weeks have been…

“Come, Lord Jesus.” 

“Your kin-dom come.” 

In me. In God’s world. 

When I’m picking up dirty laundry in my kids’ room always sitting on the floor right next to their hamper, I look up at the poster on the wall right above it. It’s a sketch of Amanda Gorman, the inaugural poet, with an excerpt of her poem, “The Hill We Climb”—“there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.” 

You’ve got the light, my friend.

You are the light. 

And God’s kin-dom is coming through you. 

Ask where it hurts. 

A PRAYER

While I often share a prayer from my book, Ash and Starlight, this week I want to share a version of the Lord’s Prayer which is opening things for me in a powerful way. While praying the Lord’s Prayer can easily become rote and routine, I’m finding it freshly meaningful in light of all we’re experiencing. This is a communal prayer we share with siblings all across the globe, not to mention the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us. It’s foundationally we/us, not I/me. As you pray this, friend, your voice joins a chorus of people standing right beside you. And this prayer was one of Jesus’ gifts to us.

This version I am loving is from the First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament

From Matthew 6:9-13

“O Great Spirit, our Father from above, we honor your name as sacred and holy. 

Bring your good road to us, where the beauty of your ways in the spirit-world above is reflected in the earth below. 

Provide for us day by day—the elk, the buffalo, and the salmon. The corn, the squash, and the wild rice. All the things we need for each day. 

Release us from things we have done wrong, in the same way we release others from the things done wrong to us. 

Guide us away from the things that tempt us to stray from your good road, and set us free from the evil one and his worthless ways. Aho! May it be so!” 

SOMETHING THAT NOURISHED ME RECENTLY…

Our little family ran, strollers in tow, in the Evanston Race Against Hate on June 19, both Juneteenth and Father’s Day.  It was an incredible sight to witness and a privilege to participate in. The race honors Ricky Byrdsong, a former Northwestern Basketball coach who was shot by a white supremacist while walking in his neighborhood with his two young kids. I will share that my seven-year-old daughter was nervous about going to the race. “There might be guns there,” she said to me. And it was a painful parenting moment for me to be unable to promise her otherwise. (Speaking of miraculous manna…  the bipartisan safer communities act just signed!!! If you haven’t already signed up with everytown, they make contacting leaders and staying informed incredibly accessible. Do it here.) 

Above the hamper, as mentioned before….

A&S PLUS OTHER GOOD THINGS…

* Find Ash and Starlight here

* A partner at Illustrated Ministry and I put together an activity kit to go with Matthew Paul Turner’s latest book, I am God’s Dream. This book is a beautiful addition to Turner’s collection. I love his books so much. Download the activity kit here

* I am continuing to train for the Chicago marathon this fall for the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of my mom.  I wrote about it  here.  My fundraising page is here. If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or are a caregiver, I would love to know. I’m keeping a running list (no pun intended), and it’s been a powerful partner for me as I run. 

You Don’t Need to Get More Done

A version of this post appeared in my “Monday Manna” newsletter. If you’d like to receive this directly to your inbox, subscribe here.

Good morning, friends ~

Welcome to this new day and morning. A start of a new day is resurrection time—time to let Jesus bring to new life in you healing from yesterday’s hurts, peace from yesterday’s anxieties, strength from yesterday’s exhaustion, gratitude from yesterday’s disappointments… Last week had its challenges both personally and nationally, and maybe you carried a heavy heart too. I hope whatever needs healing and resurrection in you this new day and week is finding some fresh life this morning, especially in the subtle and small. 

Speaking of resurrection, it’s been a few since I last wrote here…April was both a blur and a bummer, and I, for one, am ready for a fresh month (I might add I saw a headline from yesterday saying Chicago had one day of sunshine in the last 43 days, so there’s that). 

On to today’s musings…have you had the experience where something keeps appearing in your path, over and over and over again? One of my friends describes it as, “lightning crackling on his skin.” It can take a number of times for me to awaken and notice, but I give thanks the Spirit is persistent and lovingly relentless. 

In the last few months, I’ve experienced this with an ancient text I had never read, the Tao te ching, which literally translates, The Book of the Way. It’s an ancient Chinese text, attributed to Lao-tzu, referenced as a  guide for balanced, serene, generous living.

Different books I picked up (on very divergent topics, including a running manual!) were based on it, an article I opened a journal to, a poem a mentor shared, a gift sent from a friend…It kept appearing, to the point where I started laughing aloud each time it did. It felt like God’s little smile. A, “when are you going to read this?” reminder. 

What’s especially beautiful and powerful to me in this is how the message of the Tao te ching (which I am finally reading) is one of non-striving flow, and that is exactly how it has come into my life. 

I’m awakening to how much of fear, stress, and anxiety comes from the pressure I feel to accomplish. To feel that whatever I’m doing is productive and in service to someone. To earn my keep and have something to show for myself. A writer and entrepreneur I appreciate and follow came out with coffee mugs recently saying, “Lists are my love language.” I sure relate to that. 

It is pretty unsettling when I sit still and ask, “what am I trying to prove here? To whom?” 

Because the honest truth is what my husband once said to me as we stood in the kitchen, me spinning in circles of questions and doubt—”you don’t have to do a single thing more in your life to have already done enough.” he said. 

And I would say the same to you. 

Anne Lamott, one of our patron saints for life, had a soul-nourishing interview with Kelly Corrigan last year in which she said, “the purpose of life is not to get more done.” 

So if you need this invitation/permission today like I have, here it is.

You don’t need to get more done (whatever the more is). God is celebrating beautiful you right now. Your calling is in who you are becoming, not what you are doing. 

And lastly, a nugget from the Tao te ching….

Less and less do you need to force things,

until finally you arrive at non-action. 

When nothing is done,

nothing is left undone.”  

A PRAYER

A prayer all about grace and non-striving from my book, Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life. 

When I need to rest in grace

Today, Merciful God,

I lay down my private,

clenched-hands-salvation projects.

I fall, arms wide, eyes open,

into your ocean of grace…

All because you are

trustworthy in what you say,

faithful in what you do,

loving in how you respond,

patient in what you ask.

You’ve taught me how

to take in the struggle….

to look at it,

hold it in my hands,

allow it to teach me,

and let it lead me

toward a new place

of delightful dependence on you.

A gorgeous, expansive place of

release, joy, and trust.

You’re showing me it’s not who I am

keeping me from you

and what you desire,

but who I keep saying I’m not.

So at least today,

I let go of who I am

that I might be stretched

into what I must become.

I’ll ride the waves,

knowing grace upon grace

promises good land ahead.

In the love of the Great Surfer…

Amen.

John 1:16 * Romans 6:14 * Ephesians 2:8

“For by grace you have been saved

through faith, and this is not your

own doing; it is the gift of God…”

– Ephesians 2:8

Something that nourished me recently…

A couple weeks ago, I decided I was finally going to get myself a copy of the Tao te ching, and so our little family headed to a local bookstore on independent bookseller’s day. We found my book while we were there. And I’ll give you two guesses as to what book was right next to my book. The Tao te ching. Mmm hmm. It’s real. 

Here we are with the discovery at Winnetka’s Book Stall…

This interview between Padraig O’Tuama and Krista Tippett which I have now listened to more than once. If you listen to nothing else, skip to the last portion where Padraig reads the last pages of his book. Incredibly, incredibly beautiful. But as one of my friends has said, “I could listen to Padraig O’Tuama read the phonebook and have a transcendent experience.” 

Ash & Starlight, plus other good things….

* I shared in my last Monday Manna how I am (with hope and prayer and fingers crossed!) going to run the Chicago marathon this fall for the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of my mom. I wrote about it  here.  My fundraising page is here. If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, I would love to know. I’m keeping a running list (no pun intended), and carry this cloud of witnesses with me as I’m training. 

Alzheimer’s affects nearly six million people in the United States right now. It’s another major area of much disparity for our sisters and brothers of color when it comes to diagnosis and care. Your support makes a true and meaningful difference.

Thank you, thank you, thank you friends! 

* Find Ash and Starlight here

Grace and peace and presence and gratitude to each of you today…. 

Love and Light,

Arianne 

Chicago Marathon, here we come…

My mom and me last Christmas…

I wanted to get this post out on my birthday as it feels in keeping with how I want to mark and begin this new year. In some ways, I’m placing a stake in the ground of Hope. I’m currently down for the count with COVID (it was a matter of time, but Holy Week for a clergy family, really?!) and I’ve also been nursing a hamstring injury to health. I’m not running in the way I’d expected to be right now. But…”faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen…”

When my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, we were shocked. It didn’t run in her family. She was so young. This wasn’t the path we’d planned, especially after my father’s death to cancer eight years ago.

Alzheimer’s can feel like the great thief, slowly and stealthily taking away memories…it can seem a cloud cover hanging over each effort at connection. But as our family grieves the changes my mom has handled with such grace and strength, God is opening my eyes afresh to some promises.

What is most true and beautiful in our beloved can never be taken away.

Any memories, understanding, and knowledge now hidden are safely tucked in the chambers of God’s heart, waiting for reemergence in light and love on eternity’s shoreline.

Though we may forget, God always remembers.

Though we may feel lost, we are always found.

There can be peace even here.

Running has been a lifeline companion for me since childhood. It’s one place I turn to find myself, to find God. For the last twenty-five years, my greatest joys and sorrows have been kneaded into the soles of my running shoes.

The last marathon I ran was the Boston Marathon of 2013. I was two blocks away from the bombs going off as I met my husband and parents in the family meeting area. I wrote about that experience here.

I knew if and when I ran another marathon, it would need to be for something and someone bigger than me. These recent years have created a crucible I never would have chosen, between the pandemic and all the personal upheaval in our family. And yet, when life feels like an enormous tidal wave, ready to take you out to sea, this is the time to grab the hands of those you love and let those waters come, trusting the One who speaks over waters.

With your support, my brother, sister-in-law, and I will all run Chicago Marathon together this fall. I am running for my mom, but I am running for every single person I love whose heart holds the ache of an Alzheimer’s-touched life.

I will be keeping a list of people and stories as I train. If you have a loved one who had or has Alzheimer’s, I would be so blessed and honored if you would share their name with me that I might run for them. And for you.

All money raised will benefit the Alzheimer’s Association and its work to enhance care, support programs, and research toward treatment and an eventual cure (Please, Jesus!) for Alzheimer’s disease.

To visit my fundraising page for ALZ stars, go here.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Though I know nothing else,

still let me know you. 

And if a morning dawns

when I can no longer name you

or remember to call you,

be more immediately present to me then

than my own confusion, than my own breath.

Be to me a peace and a light

and an abiding sense that I am loved and held

and that all will be well.” 

( From “A liturgy for those facing the slow loss of memory,” in Every Moment Holy by Douglas Kaine McKelvey)

What Matters

A version of this post appeared in my “Monday Manna” newsletter. If you’d like to receive this directly to your inbox, subscribe here.

Good morning, friends ~ 

What matters? What really matters? 

I’ve been confronted with this question—and the challenge to answer it—in various forms and at numerous times in recent months. Perhaps one of the biggest sources posing this question is the sorting my brother and I are doing right now in my mom’s house. When my mom needed to make a swift and sudden move from her house (and our childhood home) a couple of months ago, we knew this was going to be an intense process, especially as my brother and I live hundreds of miles away and have kids in diapers. 

The time we have to go through our family home of nearly thirty years is limited. The stress of it all found me standing in my mom’s kitchen, eating my children’s bunny grahams by the fistful in pajamas at 7:00 p.m. 

Many of you know so deeply this experience. You’ve done it. You’re holding things in your hands and deciding what to keep. Is it sacrilegious to throw photos of the people you love more than anything in a dumpster?  

Does the photo matter, or the memory and people the photo represents? Sometimes it’s a yes to both. These matters of the heart can be tedious as we’re asked to sift our values out from all this chaff.  

I’m reminded of an Arthur Brooks’ article in The Atlantic a couple months ago (“The Satisfaction Trap”) which I keep returning to again and again and again. With a focus on how perpetually discontent many of us seem to be, Brooks humbly and wisely points us toward a complete reframing of what we want. Of what really matters to us. 

He describes being with some close friends at the home of a dear friend diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. As dusk settled in, his friend gathered the group to stand by a plant with tiny flowers, still closed. They stood still in silence for ten minutes. Brooks writes how all of the sudden, the flowers popped open, and the group drew in their breath with amazement. This happens, he learned, every single evening.  

It was such a moving experience of deep satisfaction that Brooks—a Harvard professor who has achieved more acclamation and awards than one could list—started making a daily item on his to-to list to, “be truly present for an ordinary occurrence.” 

It’s the marvel and the miracle of being grateful and alive right where you are, letting it shape you. It’s prioritizing presence. 

I’m beginning to wonder if this kind of living is the key to freedom. We suffer so much through our attachments and clinging, be it to people or things or plans. But what if what truly matters, what leads to the contentment and freedom God longs for in us, is planting our feet right here, opening our eyes, and receiving what’s before us as a gracious gift? What if all the the things we’ve been striving for and think we want are actually leading us further away from the vibrancy we long for? 

These questions shift my whole spirit in my mom’s house. Maybe I can let go of the stress and instead say, “thank you,” a million times with every item I touch, whether it’s stored or passed on, for the memories and moments it represents. 

I wrote a few weeks ago about a coaching summit I attended with some other Presbyterian pastors. At the close of each day, we gathered in a circle, joined hands, and chanted one of my favorite quotes from Dag Hammarskjöld. 

“For all that has been,” said the leader,

“THANKS!” we responded, taking a big step together into the circle. 

“For all that has been,” the leader continued,

“YES!” we exclaimed, raising our joined hands into the air. 

For now, this is what matters to me. Gratitude and a “yes” to the seemingly small and simple right here and now. 

This is a sacred time for many of us—Holy Week, Passover, Ramadan—all in these coming days. I personally am reflecting with amazement, confession, and hope over Jesus’ extraordinary love, and how his living out what matters changed everything.

And still does. 

A PRAYER

Getting grounded in what matters to me right now. 

From my book, Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life.

When I need to ground myself in today

Calming One,

I am stopping now.

I am resting now.

I am letting the stillness

of being with you

wash in like a wave,

while the chatter and

activity around me recede.

Thank goodness I don’t need

silence around me

in order to have quiet inside.

This moment, God –

it’s what I need and where I am.

I find myself so encumbered

by yesterdays and tomorrows

that sometimes, I leave today 

in the corner.

But today is enough.

You’re giving me the daily bread I need for now –

a person who loves me,

a moment to breathe,

a meal on the table,

a word bringing hope,

a gleam of life outside my window.

Please help me open my hands

and receive today with gratitude,

letting past seasons fill me with appreciation,

and seasons yet to be give me hope.

But for now – 

Today. Today. Today.

I love you best when I’m present,

seeing and hearing and holding

what asks for my heartfelt attention

here and now.

You promise to hold

space for everything else.

Thank you for bringing me back, God.

Thank you for the miracle of manna.

Amen.

1 Kings 17:8-16 * Matthew 6:11 * Matthew 6:34

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

– Matthew 6:11

SOMETHING THAT NOURISHED ME RECENTLY…

Giving thanks for seasons, the  memories held there, and how God brings it all together. My husband gave me this week a framed art piece he created of three maps—the Twin Cities (where he’s from), Sioux Falls, SD (where I grew up), and Chicago (where we live now).  

Trampoline joy at the neighbor’s house. Reminds me of a beloved poem by William Martin….”The Marvel of the Ordinary.” 

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

A&S PLUS OTHER GOOD THINGS….

* Find Ash and Starlight here. 

* I am a team writer and editor for Illustrated Ministry and I am very excited about these new flags being launched. 

***

Grace and peace and presence and gratitude to each of you today…. 

Love and Light,

Arianne 

Marking One Year of COVID-19….

Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

This week marks approximately one year since shut-downs in the United States began in response to COVID-19. The landscape of life right now still feels foreign, even as it grows more familiar every day. I wrote this prayer long before the pandemic – a prayer included in Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life – yet it resonates with my heart’s deepest cries and hopes as we cross this anniversary threshold.

These wounds will someday bless, and in countless ways, already are.

When I need God to redeem this painful, hard, sad thing (From Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life)

Wonder Worker,

When I peered up from the hole 

and saw no way out…

When what was taken 

away gave no warning…

When I didn’t think I 

had the courage

(or even the energy)

to live into a life looking 

nothing like it did before…

Something was happening.

The thing I thought would break me –

that did break me –

is now making me.

Great is the mystery of faith

The pieces of life’s puzzle 

come together here and there,

or shockingly in a big patch at once,

and I see you…

active and good in all things.

Your power to redeem –

to take the most painful deaths

and birth from them living, breathing gifts,

taking my own breath away in awe.

You do not create pain for me to grow

or cause the heartache of my soul,

but are the expert Shaper of life’s ashes. 

Somehow this terrible thing –

when given in earnest to you today

(and many tomorrows from now!)

becomes an open channel where

something amazing will flow.

A passage echoing

with a tender Voice –

You can trust me 

with all the things….

in all the things…

You will lift me from this hole.

I will wail and wonder with gratitude. 

I’ll begin a new kind of dance,

letting my limp remind 

my soul and world

how broken bodies 

learn exquisite new rhythms.

With you, pain finds a home

in something larger than itself.

And sacred scars hold haven over

wounds which will someday bless.

Amen.

Genesis 45:4-8 * Joel 2:25 * 2 Corinthians 4:16-18  

“So we do not lose heart. Even though our

 outer nature is wasting away, our inner 

nature is being renewed day by day…

preparing us for an eternal weight of glory 

beyond all measure…” 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 

A prayer in response to this week….

Photo by Lori Archer Raible

“Jesus answered, ‘For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’ – John 18:37-38

Refugee King, 

“I saw what I saw and I can’t forget it…

I heard what I heard and I can’t go back…

I know what I know and I can’t deny it…”*

You linked your only life’s arms

with those who were fleeing 

and those who were forgotten, 

with those who were abused

and those laid bare to brutality. 

From the manger to the cross,

and all the broken places in between,

you bore a truth

the world tried to bury. 

You made your home in vulnerable spaces

and I need you to free me from this 

prison of privilege so I can 

make my home there too. 

What I saw and heard and know…

make it burrow into my bones,

becoming the very frame

of a convicted, confessional life. 

Repentance plus courage has 

always been the only way forward, 

and no cross or confederate flag

has the last word with your children. 

It is what I do now that reveals my 

heart’s true treasure. 

Will I be an extremist for love,

an agitator for justice?** 

Can I lean in toward those

I don’t even desire to understand?

(and blame from the bottom of my heart!)

Will you lift me to the rock higher than I,

transcending my outrage

and instilling in my soul’s eye

the kin-dom who basic foundation

seems swallowed by those lost

to even themselves. 

“What is truth,” a fearful man

with a trembling, hiding,

hateful heart asked you. 

As your answer, you gave your life. 

Please, God of mercy, take mine. 

Amen. 

* Inspired by two songs, Liz Vice, “Refugee King,” from the Single Album, 2019, and Sara Groves, “I saw what I saw,” from “Tell Me What You Know” Album, November 6, 2007  

**My thanks to Jan Edmiston for her post and MaryAnn McKibben Dana for her reflection on the profound words of MLK . 

A Prayer for the New Year….

Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe

Welcome 2021!!! A prayer for the new year with some accompanying Scripture from Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life.

For the New Year

Gracious One,

I thank you for holding my 

hand in this fresh, new year…

Against my inclination 

and with your help,

I let go of my desire for 

more control over my life.

My hunger to know what’s coming 

and to be ready for it.

My expectations to be in charge.

Have you not taught me again and again

how the joy is in the flexibility?

How all the unexpected, 

the unwanted, the unexplained 

things coalesce to carve me into

the person I really want to be?

Even the changes I asked for,

the changes I wanted,

can cause anxiety.

Treading on this shifting soil

calls for a steadiness

beyond my own capabilities.

So I trust your hand to hold mine,

carrying me into this new land –

good but different.

You are my Birthing Mother,

always re-creating, always open to change.

You keep showing me 

while change is eternally constant,

so is your presence.

You engrain in me 

how hope is born through struggle

and the fresh start brought through

change is an invitation to grow.

Whenever something leaves,

something new comes.

Please give me the 

wisdom of soul, Loving One,

to look for it.

For a soft heart open to newness,

sensitive to others’ pain,

resilient with hope,

trusting in darkness….

this is the heart for 

which I pray this year.

Amen.

 Jeremiah 29:11 * Ezekiel 11:9 * 1 Corinthians 2:9

“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the 

human heart conceived, what God has 

prepared for those who love God…” 

– 1 Corinthians 2:9 

Prayers for Advent 2020…

Photo by Susanne Moorman Rowe of the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery. Regarding the picture, Susanne writes, ” It was such an emotional visit that I felt like I was defiling the memorial if I took too many pictures. Something about this one, taken from a distance, felt more sacred.” EJI was founded by Bryan Stevenson.

“Hope is our superpower,” Bryan Stevenson asserted in his recent interview with Krista Tippett for Onbeing. His words stopped me. The truth of that statement flooded me with this fresh, yet unsurprising, realization. This is how we are making it right now. In this year of COVID, national disunity, and a much overdue racial reckoning, we’ve been forced to draw upon a whole new level of resilience and faith. A superpower.

Stevenson, a modern day hero in countless ways, is fueled by hope – a gritty belief in “what is unseen” which he “[waits] for with patience” (Romans 8). Speaking of things unseen, Stevenson also shared in the interview how he’d never met a lawyer before he went to law school. His vision has always been one of hope-filled belief in freedom and abundant life for all, even as the picture in his heart’s eye is painfully far from the surrounding reality.

The traditional themes, or “gifts,” of Advent are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. I’ve experienced new meaning this year as to why Hope is always the first week of Advent. It’s both the opening virtue and foundational layer for all the other gifts and experiences to come. It harkens to a woman who said a hopeful yes to what she couldn’t see with her eyes but could with her heart. I think of hope as the true definition of courage.

I have two Advent prayers to share. One I included in my most recent “Monday Manna” newsletter. The other is a prayer from my book, Ash and Starlight, which even in this Christmas season like no other, still speaks from and to the depths of my heart.

While I wish all God’s gifts for you this Advent, I especially wish you Hope. A new day is coming, and God will carry us until we get there. In the meantime, we pray one of the most ancient prayers I know. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus…

***

A Prayer for Advent 2020 

Maranatha….

Come, Lord Jesus…

Amid my reality feeling unsustainable

but not optional…

In my questions of capacity

and burning-with-fatigue-faith….

In the standards I’ve been forced to shift

and the expectations left untouched, let alone unmet. 

Yours is the Story, Lord!

A Story which cannot be swallowed by

even the most chaotic, swirling storm 

of illness, grief, rage, fear…

Even now, musicians don masks, 

little hands light candles, 

hearts and souls unite over screens.

You are coming here….

A miracle never finished, but always unfolding,

bringing new gifts in this season

when I don’t recognize my life,

and at many times, 

myself. 

Because you come,

I will love my life. 

I will claim its gifts. 

I will hold hope 

and breathe peace

and speak joy

and listen to love. 

Maranatha…

For this world, for all I love, for me…

Amen. 

***

A Parent’s Advent Prayer (From Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life)

Dear God,

I now stop what I’m doing,

what I’m thinking,

what I’m scrambling to plan

and hustling to finish 

so that I can

be here.

Be here in the safety and warmth of your love.

This love that holds me fast and keeps me centered.

What I want to be a season of joy for my children 

so quickly becomes a season of 

increased expectations for me –

not because they expect things, 

but because I do.

It’s the pressure I put on myself to

make things perfect,

and memorable,

and happy,

and *special*.

But you came to me amidst darkness and stars –

reminding me how darkness and light 

are most beautiful together.

And in that holy, mysterious and messy night, 

you re-defined perfection,

promising me that leaning into the mystery

and laying down in loving awe

compose the most faithful response.

You tell me the best gift I can give 

my children this Christmas is

to look with love into their eyes.

To pause throughout the day 

to pray over them.

To envelop them with arms 

of fierce grace when I feel 

most angry or annoyed.

To sit in wonder for a moment (or many)

and marvel at all that shaped 

our family this year.

To give thanks

and allow tears to fall

and dreams to rise.

To take my pilgrim band 

by their hands and walk together,

deep into the heart of Bethlehem 

shining bright within our souls.

This will be more than enough,

because you’ve made a manger 

in which my heart will rest and find 

your heartbeat becoming mine.

Amen.

The invitation of anniversaries- one year of A&S…

My copy of Ash and Starlight, with a taped-in photo of opening my first boxes of the book.

Today, October 22, marks one year since Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life was born. Anniversaries are powerful days. They especially hold significant influence when our hearts and bodies pay attention to them with awareness and openness.

With an anniversary, we mark the event, but we also mark the life we’ve embodied and experienced since then. We remember the memory of that day a year ago (or more!), and we hold up our current life to the touchstone of what life held back then. We stretch our arms around new layers of that day, asking, “what does that experience mean now?”

I found out I was miraculously pregnant a few days after my final book event last December. We then entered a collective crucible in the late winter while COVID became much more than a concern in Wuhan. And as that fire rose, so too did the flames of a long overdue and necessary racial reckoning. Never would I have dreamt my current life on this day last year. Life then was book events with rooms of unmasked people and our family of four. Now it’s mothering a newborn, an active three-year-old, and a zoom kindergartner nearly exclusively within the four walls of our home. If you are a fellow HSP (highly sensitive person), perhaps your meter is off the charts too.

I wrote Ash and Starlight in the confines of my own personal crucible. Many of its prayers were penned during my most challenging seasons of surrender, loss, and questioning. The “Ash and Starlight” musical text itself came together as a commission following my father’s death. Over the course of nine years, writing prayers became a rope to hold, my steadying walking stick, on this endless life pilgrimage – a walk that’s never over, encompassing seasons where we question our ability to keep going.

Little did I know how I myself would need these prayers in the months following publication. I couldn’t forecast the fresh levels of chaos and profound reservoirs of grace which would rock and anchor me. Things have been hard. Really, really hard.

With this anniversary, I’m reflecting on the ash and starlight of this last year. In my hands, I hold the loss we’ve experienced with the world turned upside down, while simultaneously holding (literally Ergo wearing as I type this now) our “Little Miracle,” Noah. He enfleshes what I described in Ash and Starlight’s introduction…

“The poetry of Genesis [reminds us] God created us from the ash and dust of the earth, then blew divine breath into us. This same breath created the stars – what ancient people saw as “heavenly beings” filled with transcendent, pure, and powerful beauty. The illumined meaning of the poem uncovers a beautiful truth. We are made of earth and we are made of heaven. Ash and starlight woven together.”

So are our lives. Every. Single. Day.

Amid the stress, tears, and sweet spots of this time, I’m trying, however feebly, to mark this anniversary by receiving its invitation – the opportunity to ask myself, Who am I? What needs prayer here and now? And especially, the question that led to so many of the prayers in the book…What can I let go of today? I so struggle to accept the bedrock place surrender has to have in my spiritual life.

My deepest desires for all of you and for the book remain, and I pray them anew…

“I hope you feel freshly empowered and equipped to approach life with grace and curiosity; to surrender and trust amid your fears; to rejoice in your current life, even as you’re moving toward something else…May you awaken to sentiments you didn’t realize were harbored within you, and invite God to share in them. And, may you say yes to the ash and starlight in your own journey, because there is no transformative power in what we deny.

The world is a broken and beautiful place, and a tender, strong God holds us in it. I pray you find connection and wholeness as you run with elation or crawl on hands and knees through the dark. We will all do both.

We won’t fully reach the destination – at least, not in this life. But God will give us glimpses along the way – enough to get us up in the morning and say “yes” all over again…” (Introduction, p. 3-4)

This is my hope for all of us – for how we show up to life, to God, and to ourselves. We seep in the paradox of finding what we most need by releasing what we think we do. We say yes to the life that terrifies us. The fire keeps burning dross away, and we see the face of God revealed in our own souls. And, with courage enough for now, we “unfurl our hands in aching yes, / and clasp the holy gift, / which is this day, / which is enough. / Another chance to live, / to burn with grace.”

The final stanza of “Ash and Starlight”….

To close, a brief then/now with photos…

2019

At the book launch…

And 2020, our family now…

(Jessie Hearn Photography)

Gratitude and praise to the God who is able and good, the God who is with us and for us. Grace, peace, love, and strength to every one of you….

Amen.

‘Ears as Soil’ and a fresh prayer to the Sower….

I appreciated the privilege of guest-preaching yesterday morning (virtually!) for a dear friend’s congregation. The Lectionary Gospel Text was the Parable of the Sower from Matthew 13:1-9 (explained in vs. 18-23).

It was a meaningful, challenging text for me to pray over and ponder last week. What especially resonated with my heart in recent days was the connection between our ears and the soil to which Jesus refers – our ability/willingness to deeply listen and the various forms of resistance Jesus names. Listening actively and attentively is what will initially determine whether a seed of God’s truth and hope finds any lodging, and Jesus names this – “Let anyone with ears, listen!”

A quick overview of how I see these soils….

  • The first soil is, well, not listening much at all. In one ear and out the other. Looking compassionately at these ears (which I recognize often in myself), they just aren’t ready.
  • The second soil (rocky) appears to be “shallow” listening. We genuinely take in the transformative message Jesus offers, but it just doesn’t stick. We get exhausted or skeptical or both.
  • The third soil (thorny/sharp) can be thought of as “choked” listening. Maybe we accept what Jesus says, but we backslide into complacency when other things take front and center. I’m especially compelled by what this means for us in a time of such debilitating anxiety in our news – from COVID to racist policies to violence in my own city of Chicago making national headlines. It’s not just the lure of wealth or self-sufficiency that can choke our listening. What about all the handwringing we do over the world going to hell in a hand basket?
  • The last soil (good!) connotes what we all pray and strive for – active, deep, heartfelt listening. True listening builds on openness to being changed and transformed by what we hear. And it’s intentionally and continually giving that message continued room to grow (lots. of. work.).

We greatly miss out if we take this parable on solely an individual/personal level. The communal undertones are strong, as we we also collectively form an environment with others that builds or breaks down resistance to the Gospel’s spread.

Living out God’s message of liberation and transforming love is similarly difficult when it comes to the foundational blocks of our society. Cries for racial justice are a powerful example. There’s the hard path of white fragility, the rocky soil of fading out after a sprint of temporary attention, the thorns of sacrifices and reparations some feel are too much. Are we listening? What a call to use our ears!!

The Sower was where I drew my greatest hope in Jesus’ parable. This untamed and creative Sower is a lot like the wild nature around us. Beautiful flowers can grow in the sidewalk my kids roll over on their scooters and bike every single day. “Good soil” doesn’t have to look manicured.

The harvest of our active and deep listening may be to do some sowing ourselves, following in the footsteps of the Sower who gives freely without expectation and scatters resources without regulation. Every kind of soil is work the investment. We give ourselves to the work without getting too attached to the results. Because God cares more about our faithfulness than our success. If it were otherwise, we’d have a completely different parable and Sower.

Here is a fresh prayer inspired by this hope-filled word….

Wild and Lavish Sower, 

Your pockets overflow with redemptive seed 

which you grasp by the handful – 

scattering hundreds of hope-filled truths

in every direction, on every soil. 

You laugh with joy in the abundance of it all, 

stretching your generous hands 

toward a world hunkered down with 

questions of scarcity and skepticism. 

Make us ready for your seed, God, 

make me ready! 

Till and break and shake the 

hardened clumps in my own soul – 

the too comfortable heart 

or complacent attitude,

the rock hard opinions calcified 

over years of narrow gazing. 

Open me to change and growth.  

Cultivate courage in me to embrace

the inherent loss that will catalyze 

my best transformation. 

I want to truly see and deeply hear

what you so graciously plant…

to sprout the roots needed for

my nourishment when I become 

exhausted, bored, or overwhelmed. 

Nurture in me the staying power

to give your message room to grow, 

even as it asks for my greatest humility

(and at times, humiliation!). 

You will never stop sowing, 

nor ask for my readiness before 

tossing some seeds at me. 

And so today, 

I will slow down 

to seep in this quiet miracle – 

the potential wrapped 

in your Spirit seed 

settled in the soil of me. 

Amen. 

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