This week marks approximately one year since shut-downs in the United States began in response to COVID-19. The landscape of life right now still feels foreign, even as it grows more familiar every day. I wrote this prayer long before the pandemic – a prayer included in Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life– yet it resonates with my heart’s deepest cries and hopes as we cross this anniversary threshold.
These wounds will someday bless, and in countless ways, already are.
When I need God to redeem this painful, hard, sad thing (From Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life)
When I peered up from the hole
and saw no way out…
When what was taken
away gave no warning…
When I didn’t think I
had the courage
(or even the energy)
to live into a life looking
nothing like it did before…
Something was happening.
The thing I thought would break me –
that did break me –
is now making me.
Great is the mystery of faith…
The pieces of life’s puzzle
come together here and there,
or shockingly in a big patch at once,
and I see you…
active and good in all things.
Your power to redeem –
to take the most painful deaths
and birth from them living, breathing gifts,
taking my own breath away in awe.
You do not create pain for me to grow
or cause the heartache of my soul,
but are the expert Shaper of life’s ashes.
Somehow this terrible thing –
when given in earnest to you today
(and many tomorrows from now!)
becomes an open channel where
something amazing will flow.
A passage echoing
with a tender Voice –
You can trust me
with all the things….
in all the things…
You will lift me from this hole.
I will wail and wonder with gratitude.
I’ll begin a new kind of dance,
letting my limp remind
my soul and world
how broken bodies
learn exquisite new rhythms.
With you, pain finds a home
in something larger than itself.
And sacred scars hold haven over
wounds which will someday bless.
Genesis 45:4-8 * Joel 2:25 * 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
“Jesus answered, ‘For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’ – John 18:37-38
“I saw what I saw and I can’t forget it…
I heard what I heard and I can’t go back…
I know what I know and I can’t deny it…”*
You linked your only life’s arms
with those who were fleeing
and those who were forgotten,
with those who were abused
and those laid bare to brutality.
From the manger to the cross,
and all the broken places in between,
you bore a truth
the world tried to bury.
You made your home in vulnerable spaces
and I need you to free me from this
prison of privilege so I can
make my home there too.
What I saw and heard and know…
make it burrow into my bones,
becoming the very frame
of a convicted, confessional life.
Repentance plus courage has
always been the only way forward,
and no cross or confederate flag
has the last word with your children.
It is what I do now that reveals my
heart’s true treasure.
Will I be an extremist for love,
an agitator for justice?**
Can I lean in toward those
I don’t even desire to understand?
(and blame from the bottom of my heart!)
Will you lift me to the rock higher than I,
transcending my outrage
and instilling in my soul’s eye
the kin-dom who basic foundation
seems swallowed by those lost
to even themselves.
“What is truth,” a fearful man
with a trembling, hiding,
hateful heart asked you.
As your answer, you gave your life.
Please, God of mercy, take mine.
* Inspired by two songs, Liz Vice, “Refugee King,” from the Single Album, 2019, and Sara Groves, “I saw what I saw,” from “Tell Me What You Know” Album, November 6, 2007
**My thanks to Jan Edmiston for her post and MaryAnn McKibben Dana for her reflection on the profound words of MLK .
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!
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.
Stopping to smell the beauty at the Chicago Botanic Gardens….
The news of Rachel Held Evans’ death hit many of us very, very hard. Some amazinglybeautiful pieces have been written in recent days days, all illuminating what a tremendous woman – what a matchless voice – the world will achingly miss. I never met Rachel. She also changed my life and faith trajectory in too many ways for me to name. Her words have been a companion to me for years, and that’s exactly what so many people have named. Her voice. Her words. How she changed the world because of them.
I’m preparing to lead a women’s retreat next week on the theme of “Finding Your Inner Voice.” I’ve been thinking about the power of words and the creative force in using one’s voice. This is something to which we’ve been reawakened through Rachel and her legacy.
Abraham Joshua Heschel believed, “words create worlds.” With our voices, we can call into being the world we envision. And this is, after all, the way our story started.
Expressing what’s deepest within us through voice and word – whether by lips or through pen – becomes a devoted offering. We have the power to name our world as beautiful, then go about the hard, faithful work of making sure all can enjoy it that way.
My prayer for the women I lead next week and my prayer for you is to receive God’s love and fresh empowerment for living by your inner voice. The voice within you showing everything belongs.
You have some really important words to share. Rather than write a prayer today, I invite you to create your own. It can be one word, a phrase, or a whole flow of things.
Thank you for creating a beautiful world through your voice today.
Thank you, Susanne Moorman Rowe, for sharing this beauty with me on my birthday this week!
Good Friday blessings, friends. I’ve been eating up so much Richard Rohr lately. He’s long been one of my heroes. Father Rohr has set me – along with countless others – free. It’s not an overstatement to say he has changed my life, and his latest book has been (IMHO) his best yet. I beg every one of you to read this book, or even listen to the accompanying podcasts. You will not remain the same.
On this Good Friday, I think of a couple of truths from Father Rohr that sink deep into my bones today. First, that “God loves things by becoming them.” And second, “everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end.”
My understanding of the cross and what it means is very different now than it was growing up, and through Richard Rohr, I love and appreciate it in a whole new (and much more healing, helpful) way. God incarnate in Jesus Christ embodies for me how love is the undercurrent beneath every single thing in our world.
I wish you tangible experiences today of Christ’s pervading, unconditional love. And in doing so, offer another sneak peek toward my book – launching this fall – that includes a Lenten prayer.
Thanks to my sister, Em, who captured Georgia’s spring beauty this week!
Spring blessings to you, friends! Welcome to the end of the week. Perhaps these recent days had some challenges for you. Maybe it was hard not to take comments you received personally. Maybe you’re getting really tired of the chronic pain that just can’t be kept in check. Maybe the kids had a tough time acclimating to routine and rhythm after spring break. Maybe you discovered you had a dead skunk underneath your deck that made your entire house smell like the plague of death. Yes, that last one did indeed happen to us this week.
Whatever the week brought, here is some encouragement for you, friends, as you begin the weekend. Spring is here, and with that comes all the promises for which we yearn. Growth and blooming, beauty and rebirth, always come. The most exquisite sights regularly appear after quiet, strenuous work below ground (often unnoticed, routinely in frigid, gray sameness).
God never ceases from creating beauty. As we witness it outside, remember God’s creating that beauty in you. It might not feel like “spring” in your soul or life. Maybe you’re grinding through the same-old that’s needed and asked of you right now. Know without a doubt, though, that spring always comes. It’s in the fabric of the world. It’s in the skin and heart and life of you. And your faithfulness right now lays a foundation of rich, nourishing soil. It will feed the fruit about to form.
I shared last week that my book, Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life, is now available for pre-order! As another little “sneak peek,” here is a prayer for springtime from the book .