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Good morning, friends, and HAPPY SPRING!
In my little corner of the world, the earth has turned. The air drifts the delicate scent of flowering dogwoods. My son is making bouquets of stray daffodils and snow drops in the muddy yard. I have gone outside more than once in a T-shirt.
The physical transformation surrounding me has only reinforced a theme brought to my soul-attention countless times in recent months.
I can find gratitude, peace, and contentment in the change.
Do not cling.
Do not cling.
Do. Not. Cling.
I read a beautiful book earlier this year by Mary Pipher, her latest in a string of writings which have shifted culture and liberated many lives, especially for women. As I wrote about in January, my word for 2023 is LIGHT, and so I found myself smiling at God’s Spirit synchronicity when a friend sent the recommendation my way for Mary’s book, A Life in Light: Meditations on Impermanence.
In her collection of moving and poignant essays, Mary reflects on her long life, pointing to seasons of both darkness and light (or rather, how those coexisted in every season). What has especially stuck with me from the book, though, is her understanding of “light” as an appreciation for life as it is, not life as I wish it to be. That embracing impermanence leads me closer to the light.
She describes a Japanese term, “komorebi” (we don’t have an English translation for it). It refers to that gentle, lovely phenomenon of scattered light filtering through trees when sunlight shines amid the branches. You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re standing beneath a tree or by a window, and the light streaming through is continually shifting, almost like it’s dancing.
I’m thinking about how this image makes change and impermanence a holy thing in my eyes.
And how to clutch the branches and force them to stay put would do violence to the beautiful experience. And really, not keep things the same anyway as the light has a mind of its own.
Mary’s latter chapters are especially profound as she talks about her own detachment from clinging, especially to her children, grandchildren, and past seasons when they were together more.
It feels like a resonant theme for this Eastertide, when one of the main accounts of Jesus’ resurrection includes Mary (another Mary!) trying to hold on to the risen Jesus and him saying, “Do not hold on to me” (John 20). Or the disciples who want to make a shrine for Jesus and camp out during the Transfiguration, only to be told by Jesus it was time to head back down the mountain (Matthew 17).
When we have something good, we don’t want to let it go.
Of course, it goes both ways. Happy experiences end. Terrible ones do too.
This too shall pass…
And so maybe the way we live with the deepest integrity and brightest light is to keep our hands open in gratitude and unclingy, trusting that whenever something leaves, those hands will be filled again.
Just like the trees do every year when they give up their leaves.
Spring will come.
For me, the divine irony of it all is that just when you embrace that impermanence, you taste a freedom and a sweetness which will nourish and steady you for anything and everything.
I’m in the midst of Michelle Obama’s, The Light We Carry (another beautiful book with “light”!), and just read the part in which she reveals the power of detachment. She shares the story of a young girl who runs for student council, doesn’t get it, but is so strengthened and emboldened by her vulnerability in trying that she goes on to do a whole host of other impactful things. It’s rather amazing what can be accomplished when we aren’t set on the outcome. Or holding on with fixation to what we have.
Maybe trusting that truth, just for today, will be the opening which alters the whole course of things.
I wrote a Holy Saturday prayer for The Presbyterian Outlook which speaks the message of transformation — a beautiful reality that is ongoing. You can read the prayer here.
But, on cue with the springtime shifts, here is a prayer, “For Springtime,” from my book, Ash and Starlight.
Loving, Creator God,
Spring reminds me it’s
never too late to start over.
That there’s been quiet growth
over these long months
of winter when I saw nothing.
When I was called to believe
there was growth happening
beneath hard, cold soil.
And now? Glory!
I celebrate the loveliness
of all you’ve made.
The newness, Lord,
the freshness –
it inspires my soul!
Tulips in the front yard,
buds on the trees,
the voices of birds,
the cleansing of rain,
the comfort of sunshine…
each gift renews me,
speaking of the promise within
all those months of dormancy
As spring awakens my physical senses,
I ask, God, for you to awaken my inner senses.
May my mind open and blossom
to the longings you’ve placed within me…
to the steps and path that will
satisfy the desires of my heart…
to the hopes and passions
you’ve planted in every
one of your children…
May I seek what will truly fulfill them.
May I journey toward their Source.
May I be guided by your gentle and wise Spirit.
It is never too late to be
what you call me to be.
Even as it takes greatest courage
and deepest humility.
With your help, I will open myself to
what I never expected before,
never experienced before,
and never thought possible.
Psalm 16:11 * Psalm 104:24-30 * Isaiah 55:8-9
“You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness
of joy.” – Psalm 16:11
Something that nourished me recently…
Speaking of impermanence and savoring (but not clinging to) different seasons, birthdays are always reflective for me, especially this past one. This past Saturday marked not only my 38th birthday, but the ten-year-anniversary since the Boston Marathon bombing, a race I ran in 2013. The Boston Marathon is today! It was powerful for me to see again the photo below from ten years ago (my parents and partner with me after I’d finished, minutes before the bombs went off). And to see and hold this photo in the midst of a day graced with such love, support, and thoughtfulness from the rich relationships in my life. There was the grief and the remembering, but also a long healing run in the morning, time at the Botanic gardens, watercolor painting with my son, a collaborative Spotify playlist for my birthday made by friends, and sweet treats with people I adore. It’s always ash and starlight together.
More on the theme of running, sunrises right now on early morning runs are saving my life. I love how in this one, the light extends both toward heaven and earth. And the bird.
Something of incomparable nourishment for me is seeing people I love alive and using their gifts, especially my kids. My daughter’s “Lion King” performance was two days before my birthday and was the best present. Here’s Nala.
Fresh flowers are one of my favorite things in the world, and our house is filled with them right now in light of others’ generosity for my birthday. But also, my kids made this orchid a couple months ago out of legos for me, and I think it’s truly perfect. It will probably be the only orchid plant I don’t kill.
Ash & Starlight, plus other good things…
Find Ash and Starlight here.
* Jennifer Grant has done it again. Her new book, Finding Calm in Nature: A Guide for Mindful Kids, is amazing and has already become beloved in our family. The book isn’t explicitly religious, but is not only a “mindfulness” book either. My five and eight-year-olds have especially loved it, even as the publisher pitches the book for ages 9-13. Especially timely in light of Earth Day this month (which, every day needs to be Earth Day).
* Also on the earth care theme, I had the joy of editing the latest Compassion Camp VBS for Illustrated Ministry, and this one is my favorite. In Compassion Camp: What Every Living Thing Needs, kids get to explore what all living things need to live—shelter, food, water, air, and community—and how we can have compassion for the living earth, especially in their local ecosystems. Check it out for your faith community this summer!
* I’m anticipating leading an All-Church Retreat for First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights on April 29 with the theme of Authenticity and Exploration: Rekindling the Gift.
Sending you peace and trust, friends, as we embrace the changes…
Love and Light,