One of our fantastic contributors, Arianne Braithwaite Lehn, wrote a beautiful book of prayers that accompany us on all of life’s journeys. Her book, Ash & Starlight, is available now.
Arianne, we are so excited about your book’s release! Tell us a little bit about your dream for this book and how it came to be.
When I was a parish associate at Highland Park Presbyterian, still in my last year of seminary, I started composing a weekly prayer to go out to the congregation every Friday. I incorporated prayer requests from the congregation and slipped them into a more extended prayer to hold and guide our hearts for the day. It became a way to both deepen our prayer lives as well as our vulnerability with one another. An unexpected gift for me was how writing prayers uncovered my authentic voice – and specifically my writing voice – in fresh ways.
When my husband and I moved to Fort Wayne and began ministry at First Presbyterian, I continued the prayer practice there – sending out prayers every Friday. And then, in the spring of 2015, when I needed to step away from my pastoral call, I began a blog for prayers and other writing. It had become such a life-giving practice for my heart, one that helped me navigate some of the rockiest waters I’d encountered – death, birth, loss, multiple moves, and a complete upending of my plans.
Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of writing a book someday. Books have been an essential and life-changing part of my journey. But only God in God’s goodness and leading could have brought this about. Eight years ago, when I started writing prayers, I wasn’t telling myself, “someday, this will become a book of prayers.” It was indeed a case of fumbling toward faithfulness in the next thing, and then the next. I think 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…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.”
Tell us about the significance of the name of your book.
The name “Ash and Starlight” holds multiple threads of meaning. I connect with the Celtic Christian tradition, which grounds itself in the goodness and presence of God in creation. There is a term in Celtic Christianity called a “thin place” – a space where heaven and earth co-mingle, and the “veil” feels paper-thin. I wholeheartedly believe these places are in our everyday lives, and they are within us.
The poetry of Genesis in the Bible centers us in this beautiful idea – we’re made of earth, and we’re made of heaven. The creation poem says God created humans from the dust or ash of the earth, then blew divine breath into them. The same breath and spirit that created the stars are embedded within us. We are made of earth and ash, we are made of starlight and heaven, woven seamlessly together.
And so are our lives. I was 31-weeks pregnant with our first child when my dad died. As he sat in his big green recliner, taking his last breaths, I remember holding his hand in one of my hands, and placing my other hand on my pregnant belly, kicking with life. Following his death, his brother commissioned a musical piece in remembrance – not just of my father, but of the message his life spoke. My father and his brother were and are very musical and loved singing together.
My uncle asked a favorite composer of theirs to write the musical score, and he asked me to write the text/lyrics. The piece ended up being called, “Ash and Starlight” – a hearkening to the wholeness God brings to our lives and very selves, with all their mess and glory.
This is such a unique book of prayers, curated for just about every season and twist and turn of life’s journey. How do you envision people using this collection of prayers?
I hope this book will be a prayerful companion for people amid their everyday lives. A book to pull out after getting off a tough phone call, while feeding the baby, when pouring that first-morning cup of coffee, or in an intentional two minutes of centering after crawling into bed at night. The prayers are purposely named and written for the chaos and grace of life – “When I want to avoid, numb and block,” “When I’m struggling to accept my life right now,” “When I’m headed to work,” “When I can’t sleep,” “When I’m in the messy middle of something,” and more.
The prayers can be starting spots for peoples’ own prayers – a springboard to use in offering God their unique thoughts and feelings they need to let loose. Or the prayers can be a place to rest. I have been so thankful for the prayers of others when I didn’t have it in me to pray – or didn’t want to.
Following each prayer are a few scripture references. These connect with the themes of the prayer and provide nourishment for further meditation if people want to go deeper.
Ash and Starlight is meant to help people see how the experiences and emotions we often want to leave behind are integral to who we are and are becoming. I pray this book empowers people to approach life with grace and curiosity, to surrender and trust amid fears, to rejoice in their current lives, even as they’re moving toward something else.
I believe we all need to 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. This book will hopefully help be a source of that reminding when people pull it out during the day.
Will you share some wisdom or experience you’ve had for integrating prayer into the everyday rhythms of life?
I am continuing to learn how prayer is not something separate from our lives – it can be woven into the fabric of our everyday rhythms and routines. One way to think about prayer is a recognition of God’s presence in the midst of whatever it is we’re doing or feeling. Simple breath prayers have been helpful for me – “God, I know you are with me.” “God, center my heart.” “God, give me courage.” “God, this person is driving me crazy!!!” It’s recognizing what you’re holding within you and holding that in the presence of God.
As a parent of a two and four-year-old, our home is chaotic and noisy. But prayer does not have to be peaceful, focused, or solemn! I try to take some early morning time for reading, prayer, and/or journaling (I’m talking 5-10 minutes – not long), but I am also learning more and more the grace and benefit of prayer throughout the day. When I’m out on a stroller walk with the kids, we might take turns naming things we want to thank God for – a fun playground to visit, the flowers we see in someone’s yard, the chance to be together.
When I’m driving in the car and not too distracted by the chaos in the backseat, I might think of some people I want to hold in light. When I run, I take a chunk of that time to listen to and see my surroundings – an exercise in being present to God’s world. And sometimes, I will pull out prayer books that are meaningful for me, and read those aloud with the kids. Even as all the layers of those prayers don’t register – and they might not pay attention at all – they are taking it in, even in their own way.
What other resources inspire you in your prayer life and with your two young children?
Some of my personal favorites:
- Every Moment Holy by Douglas Kaine McKelvey: There is a liturgy in this book for changing diapers, one for washing windows, a prayer for preparing dinner, another for hearing the sound of a siren. Indeed – every moment can be holy.
- To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue: A long-held, dog-eared favorite – the book that inspired me to start writing prayers of my own.
- Pray As You Go podcast: Ten minute guided meditations on scripture passages.
For prayer as a family:
- Faithful Families by Traci Smith: SUPER helpful with tangible ideas on how to cultivate faith for all ages.
- Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline by Catherine McNeil: This beautiful book awakens moms to how parenting itself is a spiritual discipline – a freeing message in seasons when “quiet time with God” feels nonexistent.
- Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren: A meaningful journey through the ordinary moments of a day – brushing teeth, making the bed, losing keys – and how those can foster a sacred connection with God.
And a couple of books that just help me connect faith with parenting in general:
Thanks so much for this, Arianne. We are so grateful for your gift of prayers here. Where can we find out more about your work?
- My weekly newsletter, Monday Manna. You can sign up here.
- My website Ash and Starlight
- Facebook: Arianne Braithwaite Lehn, Author
- Instagram: @ariannelehn
- Email me here
Links to purchase Ash and Starlight: