“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
Come, Lord Jesus…
Amid my reality feeling unsustainable
but not optional…
In my questions of capacity
In the standards I’ve been forced to shift
and the expectations left untouched, let alone unmet.
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.”
To close, a brief then/now with photos…
And 2020, our family now…
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….
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….
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.
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.
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.