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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
When you’re struggling with family over the holidays….
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….
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,
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.
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!
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…..
My heart bursts….
With thanks, celebration and dedication to the Weaver of all our ash and starlight….
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes, the work
before me feels like
a cog in the wheel
of endless turning,
Each spin presents
the déjà vu of questions…
Is there meaningful worth
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.
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.
I hope and pray this summer has provided space for deepest renewal in all the ways you most need! Sometimes what is supposed to be “vacation” leaves us more drained and tired than our status before. Being a student of the Spirit’s voice within you and your core needs will keep you in tune to how and where to lean in or rest. You know yourself! Trust that inner voice.
I have an invitation for you.
In the past, I offered a prayer on Fridays to close your week (sometimes and inconsistently, because #life….. ) With the coming of my book launch this fall, I will be shifting to a newsletter instead that will come directly to your mailbox on Monday mornings should you so choose. I am desiring a more personal way to connect with you and invite engagement, and believe an email message to you will nurture that in fresh ways.
My hope with this new newsletter – “Monday Manna” – is to help set your week’s tone. I know many people (myself included!) who find themselves on Sunday nights a bit anxious, heavy, apathetic, or all-around overwhelmed that come morning, the routine starts rolling full-speed ahead. And so with this weekly email newsletter, my prayer is that you can begin your week from a place of intentionality – a spirit and stance grounded in the goodness and provision of God.
The meaning of “manna” is significant to me. It’s shared in numerous faith traditions, but the story to which I hearken is in Exodus 16. The Israelites are in the desert wilderness, walking with a promise from God but living in total uncertainty as to how and where this journey would lead. God’s daily provision to them (along with quail – eeek) was “manna.” It couldn’t be hoarded or stored up, but had to be freshly received each day. The people lived in trust that what they needed to live and continue the journey would fall like grace. And every day, it did. The manna edified them at their deepest levels because while it was food to their bodies, it also restored their daily hope. God was still providing, present, and caring for them, and the manna they collected each day was a physical reminder of that.
And so, my prayer is that “Monday Manna,” will be a channel of God’s nourishment to you through four things:
A short prayer and/or reflection 🙂
A place to channel your prayerful energy this week
Something that nourished me in the past week
Upcoming book news
You can sign up for Monday Manna here, or through the box on my website! If you were already subscribed to receive my blog posts through your email, you are currently registered for the newsletter and don’t need to do anything. And of course, should you want to unsubscribe at any point (I also hate email clutter!) there is an easy button for that!
One of my deep hopes is that you might be so gracious as to share the ways God is nourishing you! Together we will be encouraged for another week of faith, hope, and love.
Tonight, people are gathering in communities all across our world for “Lights of Liberty.” Perhaps the one thing giving me any hope in recent weeks has been witnessing the Spirit of God alive and at work through active people – people who will not tolerate this kind of treatment of migrants and refugees. Children of God who are our neighbors. Our collective family in life.
Alongside the Lights of Liberty gatherings, I wanted to offer an option. Going to one of these collective events is not doable for everyone tonight, including my family. Yet we can all – no matter where we are – give powerful, whole-hearted witness and join the communion of saints. I know it is not the same as being together in person, but we believe and know there is more that binds us than physical presence.
Most gatherings will be around 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. tonight (relatively, depending on time zone). Join in this communal light by creating some in your own home, or wherever you may be.
Light a candle.
Breathe and bless. Focus your mind and your heart’s attention on the world’s children detained in places lacking dignity, compassion, and basic needs.
Here is a prayer I wrote some time ago called, “When I cry for the world,” and it is what my family will read tonight.
When I cry for the world
I cry for our world.
I cry over broken bodies
and broken homes
and broken hearts.
I cry over violence
I cry most of all over the children!
Through my body and breath,
I pray for your kin-dom…
For allto have
nourishing food and nurturing homes,
edifying work and safe, skilled schools,
compassionate healthcare and dignified wages,
soft beds to fall into at the day’s close…
For the children to be protected,
the elderly honored,
and both hugged every single day…
For reparative justice,
and peaceful purity in what’s
breathed, eaten, drunk.
I cry and I pray,
confessing the many times
I’ve declared what I deserve
rather than asked what I could give.
I cry and I pray,
knowing I’m complicit in the pain
and essential to the healing.
I cry and I pray,
trusting my tears mingle with your own,
hoping this tearful river softens and shapes
the hardest canyons of injustice –
or at least lays the groundwork.
I pray and I act,
moving my body and resources
toward your kin-dom vision,
trusting my skills and gifts
carry forward the new, just world you imagine
and are always bringing.
I remember this work is mine to do.
“Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which
he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which
he blesses all the world…”*
O Jesus, have mercy
and help me.
You may choose to take a picture of your candle and text to other friends and family, or share on social media with #lightsforliberty (an instance when I actually think social media can do some great good!).
My husband recently wrote a letter about the border crisis that will be going out to our congregation with some places to give, ways to learn, and advocacy opportunities. Near the end of his letter, he says, “our first and last job as followers of Jesus is to pray. There is power in prayer, in listening to God, in interceding for those who are suffering. And yet we must remember “thoughts and prayers” are not something we just blithely tweet after a crisis. Authentic prayer always changes us and impels us to action. As 1 John says, we are called to love not just “in word or speech, but in truth and action.” We encourage you to pray for the migrant families, for the political leaders and government agents on both sides of the border, for non-profit and religious leaders. We invite you to find ways to talk to your children about this crisis and include their voices in your prayers.”
I believe with every fiber of my being in prayer’s power. And I deeply thank you for holding hands in the circle tonight. As Glennon Doyle so often says, “we belong to each other.”
O Lord, hear our prayer.
*Quote in my prayer is widely attributed to St. Teresa of Avila (1515–82), but not found in any of her writings according to numerous sources, so maybe written by someone else. Still, it’s beautiful.
Dani Shapiro’s most recent book – one for your summer list….
With summer book lists a flyin’ here is one to add to your list. My recent book review of Dani Shapiro’s Inheritance is now available at The Christian Century. You can read it here.
This powerful book delves into some of the biggest identity questions we hold…Who am I? What (or who!) makes me who I am?
This is a book about secrets and the shock, anxiety, chaos, and grief that can come with major revelations. It is also a book about release, trust, the deepest kind of faith, and true essence.
Perhaps my favorite part of the book is when Dani shares her shocking familial discovery with a rabbi friend. “You can say, ‘This is impossible, terrible,’” he tells her. “Or you can say, ‘This is beautiful, wonderful.’ You can imagine that you’re in exile. Or you can imagine that you have more than one home.” Shapiro’s journey to name home in more than one place reflects the internal paradox faced by all people of faith. We are made of heaven and we are made of earth. The work of faith is to merge these worlds and realities, embracing them as unified rather than hierarchical.
I’m reminded through this book that while we “can never know what lies at the end of the path not taken,” we can offer ourselves to the here and now with gratitude and trust, finding ourselves at home.