Ash and Starlight

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

‘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. 

A prayer for this day…..

Photo by Lori Archer Raible

Wherever you are, body, heart, and mind, I am wishing you a bedrock of peace. The peace “passing understanding” which resolutely lodges itself beneath the surface of the continual change we are facing, the unraveling of what we’ve known and depended upon….

How powerfully reminded I’ve been of our interconnectedness. We live in a culture which prizes (idolizes?) individualism. And this experience of Covid-19 is not only a profound reminder, it is in many respects a calling. What does it look like to “love my neighbor” in these days? Because as many have said, we belong to each other. Your trust, empathy, and daily, faithful action are a gift with unmeasurable value.

The Illustrated Ministry team is putting together a coloring poster to help us breathe and focus in the swirl and the stress, and I wrote a short, simple prayer for it. Similar themes to Ash and Starlight, which grounds itself in surrender and courage.

Into your spacious heart 

and loving hands, dear God,  

I place my fears, 

my “what if’s,” 

my spinning world and mind…

Comfort me with the truth 

No fear is too big  

for the Great One within me. 

I am never alone.  

Calming God, bring courage. 

Tender Spirit, breathe peace. 

Gentle Jesus, be close. 

Amen. 

A Lenten Prayer….

Photo by Lori Archer Raible

On this first Sunday of our Lenten journey, here is a prayer for our pilgrimage from Ash and Starlight….

Redeeming One,

You came, Jesus, to show me the

best way to live and walk this path.

You let yourself feel the depth 

of need surrounding you.

You kept a purity of focus.

You always, always chose love.

All with bravery and trust.

I need you, Jesus, to walk 

beside me now,

helping me reflect, 

confess, prepare…

This Lenten path puts before me

the questions and realizations 

I so often stuff away.

With each step, I’m recognizing 

barriers built through my 

rote habits and unrealized prejudices, 

my base-line grudges and routine neglects…

I must acknowledge compromises 

that drew me further away

from my own soul and your calling.

But I’m coming back home.

Hone my desires to that

pure focus you held.

Help me fast from self-absorption,

finding my sustenance in the 

rich profundity of suffering-love.

Draw my heart and feet forward

on this path that’s both total mystery

and innate to who I am in you.

A minor melody marks our cadence,

yet you tune my ears for more than that.

Resurrection is always the final number. 

Help me walk, Savior Lord,

with hope amid heaviness,

ears to the ground.

I will welcome my mortality

and the potential in ashes and dust.

Amen.

Psalm 51:17 * Isaiah 53:4-6 * Luke 9:23-24

“If any want to become my followers, 

let them deny themselves and take up 

their cross daily and follow me…” Luke 9:23 

Star Words to Guide Us….

Our family’s star words on the refrigerator – Jeff’s is missing (his is resilience!) 🙂

Did any of you choose a “word” for the year? Before January embraces February, I wanted to do a short reflection on this. In our faith congregation, we celebrate “Star Gift Sunday” on Epiphany. We have hundreds of words printed out on pretty cards, and each person receives one (the kids pass them out).

It is “random,” but I believe the Spirit is, of course, at work in bringing the word – and the ensuing learning/growth! – each of us needs. Like the guiding star followed by the magi, we each are gifted with a guiding word to hone and direct us in the upcoming year. A word through which we can experience God and the world with fresh intention.

To be honest, some of my words in years past have kind of ticked me off. The Epiphany after my second child was born, I got the word “caring” and I wanted to hand it right back. At the time, I felt like all I did was try and take care of people with their needs (read: I really needed a break). But in that year, I broke two bones and had some other life circumstances that required a lot of caring from others! I experienced the caring of loving people around me and with it, unexpected dimensions of my star word.

And then there was last year, when my word was tolerance. Delving more into the various meanings of the word really challenged me. One vein of understanding was the ability to endure and thrive in unfavorable conditions. Another was the willingness to hold opinions or beliefs of others with which I didn’t agree. Both of these definitions found deep resonance in my life last year.

And now this year, the word I received was hospitality. I’m eager to see what God will reveal to and within me about this word. And I want to know – what does hospitality look like to you?

I’d also love to know if you’ve chosen a word for 2020 (love the ring of that!!) and why. We have such power when approaching our lives with intention and focus, and a “simple” word can help us do that.

Here’s to growth and new insight in the months to come, and gratitude for all the ways God will be at work – stretching, shaping, comforting, and holding us.

Yoga, Prayer, and Connection

Centering, breathing, preparing to enter in…..

One of my big passions is holistic spirituality – the way we are threaded together in a seamless way – body, heart, soul, mind. I experience God powerfully through my body. This is why I was so excited about and grateful for the capstone to book events for Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life this fall. Last weekend was a very special and meaningful yoga class led and created by my dear friends, Cindi Odle and Betsy Patton, which incorporated some of my loves – yoga and prayer (which aren’t two separate things, in my opinion).

As a trained Baptiste Yoga instructor, Cindi led a meditative flow class in which we used the ten sequences of Baptiste yoga to form a framework for prayer through our bodies and spirits : Integration, Awakening, Vitality, Equanimity, Grounding, Igniting, Stability, Opening, Release, Rejuvenation, and Deep Rest.

Betsy Perry Patton, Me, Cindi Odle

With each phase, I read a portion of a prayer from Ash and Starlight connecting with the movement of our bodies. During “Awakening” as the class did sun salutations, I read “When I need a fresh spirit.” During “Vitality” as people moved through crescent lunges, side angles, and vinyasas, I read, “When I need to breathe and live into something new.” We flowed through each phase in body and breath, and Cindi encouraged people to rest in the prayerful words, letting them center and hold our hearts.

And at the end, we laid in savasana while listening to Josh Groban’s O Holy Night. I laid on my mat with tears rolling down my face, feeling a culmination of so many steps on such a long journey. One that is not done, though a significant bookmark made. A leg and chapter that’s taught me so much and whose lessons I’m still processing.

I have been thinking so much of one of my favorite quotes by Dag Hammerskjold…the prayer I’m carrying forward in this ending and beginning…..

“For all that has been – thanks. For all that will be – yes.”

A couple of prayers for Thanksgiving…..

Photo by Lori Archer Raible

Blessings to all in this week of gathering, remembering, and giving thanks. My publisher asked that I write a couple of prayers for these coming days – one for Thanksgiving, and one for the stresses of complicated family dynamics at the holidays. This time of year can really push and press on family wounds for some. If this is your reality, I am praying extra gentleness and strength over you this week.

***

Thanksgiving prayer 

Generous One,

Everything is gift (from You!),

yet we become so used to 

what we have and who we have 

that entitlement and expectation 

can film over our eyes. 

So on this Thanksgiving, 

we rub those eyes as long as it takes

to see with renewed clarity

the matchless, limitless abundance

that is your love toward us. 

God, use this marked, single day to

embed in our hearts a 

lifetime of daily praise.

Give us uplifted hearts 

holding responsibility’s weight

to serve and love 

with all we’ve been given. 

And no token-giving. 

We say Thank You, God, with all we are,

and promise to live our Thank You 

with our lives, not only our words – 

neither of which can encompass how 

much gratitude we owe you. 

Amen. 

***

When you’re struggling with family over the holidays….

Steadying God,

Settle my stressed-out soul,

my ruminating mind, 

my churning body

in this time of joining family.

For the “most wonderful time of the year”…. 

To really love them,

I must love them as they are

You tell me it is not love, otherwise. 

But the age old wounds

and present dysfunction

make me realize how tender 

those pain points still are,

and I can crumble or armor up

at the lightest touch. 

Can you help me, God,

to somehow make gentleness and grace

my guardrails this day? 

To allow space for all the things 

that have changed alongside the things

that have not?

Give me the integrity, 

the self-awareness,

the courage to be who I am,

honoring the Youwithin me – 

and each person under this roof. 

To remember as much as I can

that in joining hands and hearts

we are united with you. 

And today can be one step,

as you promise to be there 

for every next one – 

forward or backward. 

Amen. 

A prayer for boxes and a weekend recap

Photo by Lori Archer Raible

I shared this prayer in my Monday Manna newsletter today. I don’t know about you, but when I am under stress, I descend (quickly!) into black-and-white thinking. Especially about people and situations.

Last week, I saw Oprah’s Super-Soul Sunday conversation with Pema Chodron. One of the many wise things she said concerned our openness to “letting” people change. Or how we see situations. Our perceptions and beliefs about them can become so fixed and brittle (in large part due to justifiable pain). Here’s a little prayer to help us with this…. 

Humble Savior,

Help me be, see, and understand anew.

There’s a person, a place,

a question, an issue

I have put in a box.

Separateness gives the illusion

of some control,

and if I’m honest,

some superiority.

I am afraid to let

that person or that place

or that issue change

because of the change

that would ask for in me.

I’m cautious around invitations

with such ambiguous expectations.

Give me, God, the trust 

to see with innocent eyes,

to learn with a beginner’s mind,

to understand with a non-judging heart –

and really, to love even when I don’t understand.

Because showing how you were right

never seemed to be your first priority.

Rather than turn or edge back,

help me take one step closer this week

to what is other and different and hard.

Amen.

***

And then, yesterday was such a blessing to my heart – a meaningful gathering at the Winnetka Book Stall for reflection, reading, signing, and cookie eating. I was so moved by the cross-section of people who came….people from the congregation at which I first began writing prayers eight years ago all the way to beautiful new friends I’ve recently gotten to know. A tangible reminder of God’s goodness in the journey, always unfolding….Here are some pictures!

Ash and Starlight Book Launch Party!

Our family just settled in back home tonight from an incredible weekend in Minnesota. Yesterday, we celebrated the launch of Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life at Art House North in St. Paul, MN. This was the capstone on launch week. It’s hard for me to describe the matchless experience it was in recent days to receive pictures and texts from so many people I love, all sharing they’d received Ash and Starlight.

There is much marinating in my full heart right now…I’m overcome with profound gratitude, and will need to process for many weeks to come. So much beloved community – including family who flew in to surprise me – gathered to “give thanks, celebrate, and dedicate” at the launch party. It was a humbling and holy thing….to thank God, celebrate God’s goodness, and dedicate this offering.

I can’t stop reliving so many moments from yesterday. And what I’ve especially been awed by is not just the event itself, but the journey to yesterday – all the people and experiences, guided by God’s loving hands, which coalesced in bringing this book to fruition. Truly miraculous.

I sat at the piano as we sang hymns, I read prayers and reflected, and we listened together to the original recording of the musical piece, ‘Ash and Starlight – one of the earliest stepping stones toward this book.

This playlist played in the background. Lots of Sara Groves, of course….

More to come, I’m sure, about this day. In the meantime, pictures which speak a thousand words…..

Such a privilege to pen words of love to gracious friends and family again and again and again…
Programs for our time of worship and reflection
This 100 year old church was repurposed by musician Sara Groves, and her husband, Troy, with the intention of fostering creative pursuits after Christ’s passions.
Give thanks, Celebrate, and Dedicate – the handiwork of my sister-in-law, Shanna
Our foursome
My mom…
Especially meaningful to me was to discover the Good Shepherd stain glass imagery in the church. Some of my favorite texts in Scripture center here. And so did my dad’s.
Eden and Simon snarfing down star cookies
Hymns sung include: Praise Ye the Lord, Hymn of Promise, and Great is Thy Faithfulness…
The Lehn sisters, two of whom flew in to surprise me the day before the launch party. And of course, baby Joel (3 months old)
A chunk of the Lehn family….so blessed.
My aunt, Mary, and uncle TJ – dad’s brother who commissioned the musical piece of “Ash and Starlight”
Star cookies made by Emily Erickson and her mom, Gail – PERFECT – plus Costco cheesecake. Oh, and the toppings we forgot to throw together until 1 hour before leaving for the event….
When I started to give the benediction, Eden came up to join me. She sometimes does this when my husband gives the benediction at the end of our worship services in Wilmette…a sweet tradition.
Poster-child….
Also, just saw this tonight….currently a #1 release . One of the most effective things you can do right now to spread the word for Ash and Starlight to reach and bless others is to write a very brief amazon review. It can be 2 sentences!

My heart bursts….

With thanks, celebration and dedication to the Weaver of all our ash and starlight….

Death, New Life, and a Book Launch

Photo by Lori Archer Raible

Today marks what would have been my dad’s 63rd birthday, and tomorrow is the birthday of my book – dedicated to my dad.

In John 12:24, Jesus says to his disciples, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” 

This weekend, friends and family will gather for a book launch party at Art House North in St. Paul. We will celebrate, give thanks, and dedicate this fruit to the God who weaves all ash and starlight into beauty.

I’m reminded today of God’s power to integrate into wholeness the paradoxes of our lives. Joy and pain. Endings and beginnings. Death and New Life. The holding of this book is physical fruit from some of the most painful deaths I’ve experienced – yes, the particular and acute loss of my dad’s life, but also the surrender to a future I hadn’t planned…and in some ways, even wanted.

Surrender always feels like dying because it is. It’s giving up our striving for control. Real surrender is trusting God is still God, God is still good, and that the agency we have here and now is enough. It’s also trusting the very fabric of this world God’s so lovingly created is a cycle of continual death and resurrection. Richard Rohr was the one who helped me see resurrection wasn’t a one-time event with the cross. This is the pattern for everything in our world and in our lives.

In the introduction to Ash and Starlight, I write about being 31 weeks pregnant with our first child the day my dad died. I knelt at his feet in the living room of his home while he took his last breaths on earth.  I held his fingers with one hand and had my other hand over my pregnant belly, kicking with life. I experienced in such a tangible way the holding together of death and life, of greatest grief and grittiest hope. 

Following my dad’s death, his brother, Tim, commissioned a musical piece in remembrance – not just of my father, but of the message his life spoke. Tim asked me to write the text for the piece, and the first stanza begins this way: 

On waves where trembling feet

Sink and dance there rises

Between my toes a peace…

Where heaven and earth embrace,

Where the ash in my mouth,

The starlight in my bones,

Weave together in wholeness

The “ash and starlight” allude to the poetry of Genesis. While God created us from the ash and dust of the earth, God 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. We are made of earth and we are made of heaven – ash and starlight not separate, but woven seamlessly together. And this is true too of our lives. 

The Ash and Starlight piece would become for me a kind of grounding touchstone (later the title of my blog, and after that, the title of my book), reminding me how everything in our lives belongs – the ash and the starlight.

We live in a culture that wants categories, and often creates either/or. Bad or good. Painful or joyful. Light or Dark. But God is much more “both/and” than “either/or.” And prayer is one of the ways God helps us integrate our lives and ourselves into wholeness. It can bring together the seemingly opposite things of our lives and our own selves as we see everything we are is held in unconditional love by God. Prayer keeps us awake and alive to what’s really happening inside of us when we most want to block or numb or judge. 

I’ve been humbled by the goodness of God and God’s leading in my journey. Eight years ago when I started writing weekly e-news prayers for the congregation in Highland Park, I wasn’t thinking to myself, “Someday, this will become a book of prayers.” It was truly a case of fumbling toward faithfulness in the next thing, and then the next thing, and then the next thing. I felt God lead me to keep the prayer practice in Fort Wayne, then decide to start a blog, then  follow the nudge of a mentor who told me to try and float a book proposal to some publishers. 

This journey reminds me of one of my favorite prayers by Thomas Merton, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end, nor do I really know myself. And the fact that  I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you…And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.” 

Today, I’m claiming God’s promise to lead me by the right road – even as I often feel anxious and fearful with the ambiguity of not knowing. I am a witness of God’s wonders and working.

That is what hope is. And that is Who hope is.

Some recent prayers….

A collection discovered on our walk along Lake Michigan…It’s beautiful when people leave gifts for the strangers who will come after…

Hello, friends! Blessings in this in-between space of summer ending and autumn starting. I recently made the switch to sharing the bulk of my writing and updates through Monday Manna which I wrote about here.

With Monday Manna, I share a prayer, a place to channel your prayerful energy, something that nourished me in the last week, and some updates on book news. You can sign up through the box on my website.

I want to now share here, however, some of the most recent prayers I’ve sent through Monday Manna. May they be nourishment for you as you head into the weekend.

***

Companioning One,

When I begin to feel the fears rise

and the pressures push

me toward that cursed corner –

the dark and crushing space

saying, “it all depends on me” –

help me rise.

Lift me out and above

this swirl of deceptions, God,

and remind me I am not alone,

or expected to know everything.

My eyes just need to be in the right place.

Reground my understanding

 that while I am called to faithfulness

with what I have,

where I am,

the make-or-break power of my days

is beyond my skill.

Give me one reminder this week, God,

of your presence in the details….

Just enough to shake me from

this stupor of self-reliance.

I commit today’s work to you,

and thank you in advance for what you’ll

make of it.

Amen.

***

Loving God,

Please make me a vessel today

of your creative, life-giving spirit.

When I feel too tired to

invent, create, or decide,

remind me all I must do

is remember the Source

to Whom I’m connected.

Can beautiful holiness

be less about that for which I strive

and more about what I allow

to make a home in me?

Plant yourself on the

shoulder of my soul.

I will open and rest

while you flow and work.

Amen.

***

Reassuring God,

Sometimes, the work

before me feels like

a cog in the wheel

of endless turning,

no progress.

Each spin presents

the déjà vu of questions…

Is there meaningful worth

in this?

Is this what I am *supposed*

to be doing?

All those haunting interrogations

surfacing a steady low-grade anxiety…

Keep me today from apathy, God,

but also protect me from despair.

Remind me of the promise and truth

that most wheels are connected to something else,

and through continued faithfulness,

what I thought was an endless wheel

brings me to a new horizon,

a fresh perspective,

and a surge of strength.

Amen.

***

Loving One, 

I enter the week with open hands, 
asking for the trust, 
the humility, 
the contentment
to find holiness in all I experience. 

Help me cultivate
an awareness toward abundance
so often disguised
in forms I miss,
or even reject.

I count with concern

what appears available,

looking right over what’s

under my own feet.

What’s within my own heart. 

Keep me from measuring – 
myself or those around me – 
and instead, see with awe
the limitless ocean of grace in which
we’re all floating.

Amen.  

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