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

Tag: Ash and Starlight

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.

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.

Coming October 22, 2019 – “Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life”

 

Ash-and-Startlight-Cover-Final-no-cropmarks

My dream cover, thanks to Penelope Dullaghan!

Friends, Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life is now available for pre-order on both Amazon and Chalice (with more sites later on). All thanks and praise to God – the One who brought this into being amid years of grief, joy, pain, ambiguity, and the call to trust. My deepest prayer is that this book blesses and builds the beautiful threads of connection in your life – with God, with others, and with your own soul.

I cannot thank the amazing Penelope Dullaghan enough for making the cover of my book a dream come true. The story about how this cover came to be is in and of itself a testimony to the Spirit’s holy and surprising work.

My hope for you is to find in these pages a prayerful companion for your own journey. This book encompasses prayers for your inner landscape and outer rhythms. There are prayers for what you’re feeling and prayers for the year’s seasons. So many of you have prayerfully journeyed with me in the posts of this blog or in the years of congregational ministry.

These prayers can be starting spots for your own – a springboard from which you offer to God the unique thoughts and feelings you need to let loose. Or these prayers can also be a place for you to rest. I have been so thankful for the prayers of others when I myself didn’t have it in me to pray – or didn’t want to.

The book encompasses prayers for centering, confession and release, guidance and transition, waiting and struggle, comfort and strength, trust, and seasonal times of year. Each prayer offers voice to a particular place in your heart or life….“When I need perspective at the start of the day,” “When I want to numb, avoid, and block,” “When I’m in the messy middle of something,” “When I need to trust where I am is right,” “When I can’t sleep,” “When I need to know if this thing can life again,” “When I need some steadiness,” “When I’m headed to work,” and more.

Following each prayer are Scripture references connecting with the themes of the prayer. They provide nourishment and wisdom for further meditation. As God works in your beautiful heart, you will see how the experiences and emotions you want to leave behind are actually integral to who you are and are becoming. God wants your honest attention and availability more than piety and achievement.

You will be grounded in the deepest promises of which we all need the most reminding – We are loved as we are. We are not alone. We are instruments of blessing, even when we don’t realize it.

And I am praying you feel freshly empowered and equipped to approach your 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. You might awaken to sentiments you didn’t realize were harbored within you, and invite God to share in them. And you will say yes to the ash and the starlight in your own journey because there is no transformative power in what we deny.

I am planning some pre-order bonuses (not quite ready!). If you preorder now (which I’m learning is extremely helpful and important in forecasting a book’s worth to sellers) you can receive these bonuses when they become available (in addition to my unending gratitude!).

I am venturing into new and vulnerable territory, here. The marketing piece is one with which I am not only unfamiliar, but have also been uncomfortable. I am grateful to Anna LeBaron who put her hands on my shoulders last fall at the Ezer Collective (thank you again, Jo Saxton and Pastor Steph!!). She told me to view the publicizing as an offering to God and God’s people. If you have something you’ve created out of joyful love, and which you believe can help people, it is that which you are promoting. Not one’s self. Framing the marketing and publicizing piece in that kind of light has been just what I needed to keep stepping forward. I picture you, and that floods my heart with the love I need to keep going. Let’s spread the light and love of God in all the places we can, friends. Thank you for the ways you are a lamp and beacon.

 

#ashandstarlight, #grateful, #allmylove

 

 

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