Firstlight by Sue Monk Kidd – Susan’s Newsletter 2008



August 21 & Sept. 4, 2008 Susan’s Newsletter
Firstlight by Sue Monk Kidd
Desire for Solitude.  Creativity.  Prayer.

Hi!   Oh, my goodness – can you believe how beautiful this week has been?  The breezes at night – is there anything that beats a cool breeze at night?!?!?   Even my coffee tastes better when the weather changes to cool – has that been researched?!?!    Is this what we’re missing by not living all year long in California?!?!?  Well, they don’t get the sights of the corn with the cool breeze!   What a beautiful time of year.  My favorite…and then when the fall smells begin with harvest – that can’t be described to anyone not from the Midwest, can it?!?

Don’t roll your eyes, but I found a new “top five” book for my pile!   Is it possible for my “top five” to be more than five?!?  Don’t count!!!!   The book that has captivated me this week is Firstlight: The Early Inspirational Writings by Sue Monk Kidd.  I have never read any of her books (she is best known for The Secret Life of Bees).  This book is made up of her earliest short writings.  Her writings are divided into: awareness, availability, compassion, solitude, the sacred ordinary, simplicity of spirit, gracious space, severe grace, a taste of silence, standing fast, letting go, reborn to love.  Every page I have marked up…her desire for solitude, her desire for creativity, her desire for caring for her community, all meshing in her writings as she searches above all else to pray.  I am as captivated by her writing as I was Anne Lindbergh.  I can’t believe I’m writing that!   I have the books ordered and they will be in on Friday.  I hope just by reading a little bit below you will be encouraged to continue your desire to be all that you are capable of being – for our lives are so short.  How can we make them meaningful?!?!?

On writing out our personal experiences – where we’ve been…where we want to be.

For me, creativity is essentially a spiritual experience, a conversation between my soul and me…my writing initiating this conversation.  (What is your creativity?  What brings about a conversation between you and your soul?  Walking alone?  Painting?  Drinking coffee unobserved as you watch life passing by?  Singing?  Being with children?  What begins your conversation where you really get to know yourself?  Discovering our personal stories is a spiritual quest.  Without such stories we cannot be fully human, for without them we are unable to articulate or even understand our deepest experiences. 

1.  The inner story creates identity, transforming our vision of who we are…an act of self-knowing.  Through the lens of story we see the mystery of ourselves more clearly.  Knowing who I am hinges on remembering who I have been in the past and embracing the hope of who I may be in the future.  Story allows me to enter the tension between memory and hope.  (I loved that line).

 2.  Our inner story converts and transforms by sustaining us in the midst of suffering…rebirth inevitably occurs.  Telling our story puts us in an inner room with our suffering and allows us to dialogue with it.  We begin to see our difficulty in a new context and thereby find the comfort and courage to live it. 

3.  The inner tale transforms by reorienting us to new truth and insight, breaking open the hidden holy that dwells in our experiences.  The word story means “to know.” Unearthing my story revealed truth upon truth.  It led me from chest pain and stress, to a pattern of drivenness, to an attitude of perfectionism to a stark hunger of the soul.  In the end, the story led me to the immense heart of God.  Discovering my inner story reveals God in time and place, my time and place.  It sharpens God’s voice in the common places where it often goes unnoticed.  Such awareness transforms life from a series of random events to the poetic realm of a sacred tale.

On Silence.  Stillness.  Prayer

I reflected and prayed.  I peeled open my soul…I began my journey toward wholeness, a journey that carried me into the fierce tenderness of God’s love.  Through solitude and silence I began to find an inner music, a love song being sung in the spaces of my own heart.  In the mystery of contemplative prayer I learned to enter God’s presence within and experienced love beyond reason.  I found that I could not climb my way up to God in a blaze of doing and performing.  Rather, I had to descend into the depths of myself and find God there in the darkness of troubled waters…When I have stumbled into dark places in life and felt alone, I have discovered a presence that has calmed my mind, relaxed my body, and anchored my soul.  I find peace that I cannot find elsewhere when I sit with this holiness.

On Aging: “You, see, Ann Grandma is getting “real.” That’s all.” (referring to The Velveteen Rabbit)…  I was left to consider for the first time that growing old could be a wondrous passage.  The markings of it didn’t matter, except to those who didn’t understand.  What mattered was becoming “real.” What mattered was loving and being loved for a long, long time…my Grandmother carried inside her a certain renewing flame that is hard to define.  A paper found beside my grandmother’s bed the day she died…”May I wake ready for that daily, yet greatest of gifts – a fresh start.”

On Being Present in the Moment (Not always having a wandering mind)…The words now, here, and nowhere have the same arrangement of letters, but differ when a small space is inserted.  Likewise a fine space separates us from experiencing our life as nowhere or now here.  Attentiveness is entering fully the moment you are currently in, no matter how hassling and mundane, and simply being present with it.

On Busyness: The Chinese pictograph for busyness is “heart killing.” In Wordsworth’s poem “The Prelude” he writes about “spots of time” that nourish and repair the soul…search for spots of time here and there in my day…by stopping.  Just stopping.  Jesus spoke…”Come away by yourself to a lonely place and rest awhile.” …stillness where I could spend five minutes or less sitting still and receding into the quiet core of myself…contemplative prayer…putting the soul to rest…caring for my soul.

On God’s design (I love this part)…Compassion, which is the very life of God within us, comes through a slow and often difficult metamorphosis deep within the human soul.  It happens through a process.  If we look closely at the workings of creation, we find that God nearly always works through process.  Think of it.  First there is a seed, then a sprout, then a blossom, and finally fruit.  God does not begin with a butterfly, but with a larva that becomes a chrysalis and finally a creature with wings…the most mysterious of all is the unfolding process of ovum, fetus, baby, child, adolescent, adult.  The universe is designed to move stage by stage, from incompletion to completion.  Now why should we suppose that God has designed the heart any differently than the rest of creation?  It, too, has stages.  (She wrote later in observing the night sky over the ocean…Night and day, wind and tide, current and moon.  It was a magnificent dance to silent music, choreographed by the Creator…I stood up and began to walk back, ready once more to fix my eyes and heart on the Choreographer.” Isn’t that beautiful?)

To finish I’ll put one more writing of hers on what matters in our life.  What we do that makes our lives significant…  Sir Christopher Wren designed St.  Paul’s Cathedral in London, a towering and magnificent work of carvings, columns, arches, and spires that took 35 years to build.  He is buried in the cathedral, beneath a plain and simple slab.  Barely noticeable and void of trappings, his tomb bears only this inscription: “If you seek his monument, look around you.” In the end, the only monument that matters may be the work of love we carve into the lives around us.

Do you see why I find encouragement and thoughts worth contemplating from her writing?  The above only taps at her writing.  Go today – notice the little things.  Be aware.  Be aware of those you meet.  Be aware of their needs.  Give them your time, even if you have nothing else to give.  Be aware of creation.  Be aware that you need time alone.  Be aware.  Notice your moments.  Don’t waste this day even if it isn’t where you wish you were, what you wish you were doing, who you desire to be with that aren’t near.  Appreciate just being with yourself.  Become aware of what gives you alone life.  Pray.  As Sue Monk Kidd stated, searching yourself and your soul will lead you into knowing God.  The stillness.  Your time in prayer.  Your source of strength.  These are promises, not from me, but promises from God.  I hope that you find friends, books, peace from prayer to go through anything that is difficult in your own life.  And if life is handing you laughter right now, joy, peace – be thankful for that gift from God.  He created us because he delights in us.  He desires us.

Thank you for letting me talk to you on your Thursdays.  Have a great weekend and week.  I hope I’m in the store when you come by, but if I’m not, know that we thank you for your support of our store.  You are why we make it and add more and more to what we have for you.  Go make yourself proud with decisions you make – even if no one ever knows you made the decisions.  Susan


September 4, 2008 Newsletter:
Firstlight by Sue Monk Kidd
Streams in the Desert by LB Cowman (entry for the day my father died in an accident)
God Calling by AJ Russell
A Woman’s Journey to the Heart of God by Cynthia Heald
Keep Going: The Art of Perseverance by Joseph Marshall

Good morning – I just finished the perfect filler/coffee combination cup of coffee with fog all around our home.  Seeing Camden’s look when he saw the fog – I desire his amazement…his ability to not think about anything except the beauty of the moment.  So much of his life amazement.  This note is going to include writings from about five books on despair vs.  hope.  I have tried to decide what to take out, but am not going to…for I know that those of you that know others going through painful circumstances, the length will not matter, the content will.  Again, below will show you the power of books, of finding authors that understand our circumstances…of seeing that even though our circumstances we go through alone, none of us are alone…

Yesterday I received a note from one of you letting me know of her recent diagnosis with brain cancer that is inoperable.  I would like to write for you what I have marked in a few different books on despair.  The first memory of despair is a memory of my mom telling me about the day that my dad died in a farm accident.  She told us that on night as she went into her room she saw her daily devotional Streams in the Desert by LB Cowman.  After a day of noise, chaos, profound loss she opened to June 1st.  Here was the reading for her day of sorrow.  Her day of choice – to look to the heavens for comfort or to despair.

June 1 entry, Streams in the Desert: Why do you worry?  What possible use does your worrying serve?  You are aboard such a large ship that you would be unable to steer even if your Captain placed you at the helm.  You would not even be able to adjust the sails, yet you worry as if you were the captain or the helmsman of the vessel.  Be quiet, dear soul – God is the Master!   Do you think all the commotion and the uproar of this life is evidence that God has left His throne?  He has not!   His mighty steeds rush furiously ahead, and His chariots are the storms themselves.  But the horses have bridles, and it is God who holds the reins, guiding the chariot as He wills.  Our God Jehovah is still the Master.  Believe this and you will have peace.  “Don’t be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).  Charles H.  Spurgeon

Tonight, my soul, be still and sleep;
The storms are raging on God’s deep –
God’s deep, not yours; be still and sleep.

Tonight, my soul, be still and sleep;
God’s hands will still the Tempter’s sweep –
God’s hands, not yours; be still and sleep.

Tonight, my soul, be still and sleep;
God’s love is strong while night hours creep –
God’s love, not yours; be still and sleep.

Tonight, my soul, be still and sleep;
God’s heaven will comfort those who weep –
God’s heaven, not yours; be still and sleep.

I implore you not to give in to despair.  It is a dangerous temptation, because our Adversary has refined it to the point that it is quite subtle.  Hopelessness constricts and withers the heart, rendering it unable to sense God’s blessings and grace.  It also causes you to exaggerate the adversities of life and makes your burdens seem too heavy for you to bear.  Yet God’s plans for you, and His ways of bringing about His plans, are infinitely wise.  Madame Guyon.

Another daily devotional book that I have marked on trusting God…God Calling by AJ Russell: Be calm, no matter what may befall you.  Rest in Me.  Be patient, and let patience have her perfect work.  Never think things are overwhelming.  How can you be overwhelmed when I am with you?  Do not feel the strain of life.  There is no strain for My children.  Do you not see I am a Master Instrument Maker?  Have I not fashioned each part?  Do I not know just what it can bear without a strain?  Would I, the maker of so delicate an instrument, ask of it anything that could destroy or strain?  The strain..  is carrying two days’ burden on the one day.
Underneath are the Everlasting Arms – You cannot get below that.  Rest in them, as a tired child rests.  All power is given unto Me..I cannot withhold it from the soul that dwells near Me, because it is then not a gift, but passes insensibly from Me to My disciples.  It is breathed in by the soul who lives in My Presence.  Learn to shut yourself away in My Presence – and then, without speaking, you have those things you desire of Me, Strength – Power – Joy – Riches

On the bulletin for my mom’s funeral we wrote an excerpt of what she had written a week before her death on this same promise.  She wrote six days before her body giving in to her cancer…”I was distraught (on hearing of my diagnosis)…I told God I didn’t have any more faith or strength.  He said it was not my faith, but who he is.  Psalm 91:1 came to me: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” I cried and said, “Look what happened to Ken and he was abiding in your secret place.” The verse came to me, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” I prayed the Lord’s prayer and kept repeating verses.  I received peace that night and it has not left me.”

(more from God Calling…) I am your Guide.  Do not want to see the road ahead.  Go just one step at a time.  I very rarely grant the long vista to My disciples, especially in personal affairs, for one step at a time is the best way to cultivate Faith.  But I am with you.  It was when the disciples gave up effort after a night of fruitless fishing that I came.  Literally, you have to depend on Me for everything – everything.  It was out of the depths that David cried unto Me, and I heard his voice, All is well.  Think of the multitudes, who thronged Me, when I was on earth, all eager for something.  Eager to be healed, or taught, or fed.  Think as I supplied their many wants, and granted their manifold requests, what it meant to Me, to find amid the crowd, some one or two, who followed Me just to be near Me, just to dwell in My Presence.  How some longing of the Eternal Heart was satisfied thereby.  Comfort Me, awhile, by letting Me know that you would seek Me just to dwell in My Presence, to be near Me, not even for teaching, not for material gain,..  not even for a message – but for Me.  The longing of the human heart to be loved for itself is a something caught from the Great Divine Heart.

Another book I am now reminded of with that thought of God desiring our relationship…A Woman’s Journey to the Heart of God by Cynthia Heald.  She writes a poem at the beginning of the book of a dialogue between a woman and God.  She speaks, “Who will join us in life?” God’s response…”Joy and Sorrow.” Her cry, “But I only want Joy…” God’s answer…  (take pride if you’re suffering…) “Those that suffer know me more (a privilege).” (I don’t have the copy of the book with me at home right now, but that is the paraphrase of the dialogue).

Let me follow up with more of the book I wrote on two weeks ago, Firstlight by Sue Monk Kidd“What do you want?” I asked [my son].  “Nothing,” he said.  “I just want to be with you.” He laid his head on my arm, content to be near me, to curl up in my circle of lamplight and be in my presence.  The most beautiful prayer is to sit with God in that way.  To pray, not because I want something, not because I’m in trouble again, but because I simply want to be close.

This next part is what I was going to write on this week before getting the e-mail on the diagnosis.  On moving into what is unseen in our lives…  from Firstlight also.  I recall a dot-to-dot picture…The child had created the picture by moving his pencil from dot to dot, one at a time.  It comforts me to know that when I can’t see the whole picture, all I really need is to see the next dot.

(on hope, persistence)…I came upon an unusual boulder towering at the water’s edge.  There was a hole through the center, so large that the rock resembled a hoop.  How peculiar, I thought.  However did it get that way?  As I watched the water splash against the rock – wave after wave, spilling through the opening – I realized that it was not the water but the persistence of the sea that had made a way through the impossible.  Walking on, I thought how easily I had sometimes given up on problems or dreams that had seemed too hard, too impenetrable.  Persistent love.  Persistent hope.  Persistent effort.  The mystery of overcoming often lay in the simple rhythmic act of keeping at it.

And one more book that I’ve underlined points on hope vs.  despair, Keep Going: The Art of Perseverance by Joseph Marshall (Indian Wisdom)…  At many places along our journey we reach a moment of choice.  We must remind ourselves that the choices we have made have brought us to this moment.  We must further remind ourselves that quitting, stopping, or giving in is a choice and not mandatory, no matter how seductive the voice of weariness may be…it’s more important that you simply take the steps, one after another…that one more step will take us beyond where we were, somewhere, anywhere, ahead whether by a hairsbreadth or an arm’s length does not matter…There are things other than death that can take away our will to go on…like despair, because nothing can cripple us more than the loss of hope.  Weariness may and does, attack our body and mind.  But despair takes aim at the soul…the person who does not give in to despair will not long be deterred by defeat, nor weighted down by the memory of it.  How does despair know where to find us?  Because it dwells within us – not in a place but in a moment when our spirits are weakened because circumstances seem hopeless.  Then it appears.  Despair may dwell within us, but so does hope, the way to defeat it.  Hope can defeat despair.

Remember that in our language Grandfather also refers to the Great Power others call God.  That Grandfather is all around.  He is in the storm that challenges you, and in the strength that enables you to face it.  He is that whisper of hope against despair, and the sunshine on your face when you meet each new day.  He is there with you in your victories and embraces you when you suffer defeat.  He was there when you came into this world to begin this journey, and He will be there when you leave it to begin your next one.

The peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4).  How often I quote that promise.  Beyond the understanding you even can comprehend before you ask God for it.  Remember the comment my mom made of her idea of heaven after dad died?  I cannot imagine what heaven is like – if God could create the immense beauty of Hawaii…can you even imagine what it is like in heaven?  Where he lives?!?!?  We cannot fear death.  Eternity’s view.  We must keep our perspective.  No matter our loss of what we leave on earth, the immediate step into God’s presence is the most powerful moment of our existence.  The most beautiful moment of our life.  Peace.  Peace we cannot even imagine.

Our choice.  Our choice to despair.  No matter our circumstances.  No stress in our life is insignificant.  Death or sickness is not the only way to be in the presence of God.  He seeks us to desire to just want to be with him.  As our children want to just have us in the same room.  Intimacy.  Death will only bring the intimacy of us into his room.  We are the child.  We will be at the greatest peace of our life when we are in his presence.  I hope this didn’t go too long.  I don’t know what to take out.  One day at a time.  That’s all we need to do.  Dot to dots.  Just look for the next dot, not for the entire picture of what our lives will become.  Susan

Works Cited:

Cowman, Lettie B., James Reimann, and Charles E.  Cowman.  Streams in the Desert : 366 Daily Devotional Readings.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997.
Heald, Cynthia.  A Woman’s Journey to the Heart of God.  Nashville.  Nelson Publishing.  2000.
Kidd, Sue Monk.  Firstlight: The Early Inspirational Writings.  New York.  Penguin Putnam.  2006.
Marshall, Joseph M.  Keep Going : The Art of Perseverance.  Grand Rapids: Sterling Co., Inc., 2006
Russell, A.J.  God Calling.  Uhrichsville, Ohio.  Barbour Publishing.  1954.





From the bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees comes a thoughtful, revelatory book of writings on self and spirit

Before she won an international readership with her novels, Sue Monk Kidd was best known for her smart, passionate spiritual writings. Now many of those early stories and essays (most of which first appeared in Guideposts) are collected in one volume, organized around thirteen spiritual motifs. In Firstlight, Kidd charts her emergence as a writer and seeker; reflects on her roles as wife, mother, daughter, nurse, and artist; and assesses what she has learned in settings as far-flung as Africa and her own home. The result is an intimate, uplifting book, filled with moments of recognition and discovery.

Product Details

  • Reading level: Ages 18 and up
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics) (September 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143112325
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces

Recommended in Susan’s August 21, 2008 and September 4, 2008 Newsletters