Screaming through the silent night

The preschooler at the Drum Museum, Indy. Earplugs, people.

Dear friends, fans, & fellow readers,

Advent greetings! I attempted to complete this newsletter last week amidst the swirling chaos of a snow day, two little boys underfoot and mounds of unfinished work on my desk. Plus a Twitterverse full of screaming headlines. And the world (in some cases literally) on fire. Yet in the midst of it all I stumbled upon these lines:

…But now is the hour
When I remember
An infant’s power
On a cold December.
Midnight is dawning
And the birth of wonder.
–Madeleine L’Engle, from The Irrational Season

Pause. Deep breath. This is our Savior we’re talking about. The One who calms the storm. The One whose revelations are met with silence in heaven (see Revelation 8:1). The One whose birth heralded a peace unlike anything the world falsely promises. Calm. Silence. Peace.

Radical faith for the rest of us.

As the new year approaches, I’m reminded all over again why the chapter on “Holy Time” is so very central to my recent book The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us. My c0-author, Erin Wasinger regularly asks me, “How is Sabbath going?” And she doesn’t let up. She asks me again, over tea; and again at our weekly family dinners; and by email, by text. Everyone needs a covenantal friend like this.

The reminder is timely, too, because I’m writing my next book. For Zondervan. Right now. About…[drumroll please]…the spiritual legacy of MADELEINE L’ENGLE. It’s to coincide with the new A Wrinkle in Time movie next year, of course, so the deadline is insane (don’t ask. Just don’t). But I’m having a blast! More on all this soon, of course, including the rockstar roster of interviewees, the gorgeous cover reveal, & other amazingness.

Literary guide to prayer for the holidays

In the meantime, here are some of my reflections this past year on what it means to allow Jesus to both settle and unsettle us in this particular season of our lives:

Some other stuff that’s been good for my soul:

  • My co-author, Erin Wasinger — don’t miss her blog!
  • YA author Kwame Alexander’s first season of the show “#Bookish.” Fangirling so hard over here.
  • Director Ava DuVernay’s vision for the Wrinkle in Time movie (see below). Just wow.
  • Family. Especially my precocious preschooler & first grader, who light up my life; and my husband, Tom (who else reads a Richard Scarry classic in a Soviet KGB accent & dubs it the “Communist Propaganda Edition”?).

May the joy & peace of Christ be with you all,

 

Posted in Light Upon Light, literature, Small Things, Uncategorized, writing | 4 Comments

Why it’s not “The Year of Safe Things”

Everywhere I go talking about our book The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us, I get questions about what it’s like to practice hospitality with those on the margins. After all, Tom and I have offered housing to the homeless, in our actual homes, on and off for over 15 years. Naturally, people are curious how that works. Isn’t it risky? How do you keep your kids safe? Have you ever been taken advantage of? Do you “screen” people ahead of time?

Radical Faith for the Rest of Us

(In fact, one person wanted to know if there was some agency or other that screens people for being hosted in homes. I almost asked, shouldn’t possible host families be screened too? Because who’s to say we aren’t crazier than average? Another post for another time …)

Something we’re hearing from readers is just how “risky” so many of these small things sound. Sharing about your finances with covenantal friends… that requires real vulnerability. Sharing about your own struggles with mental health, including depression … that’s harrowing. And of course opening your life–whether it’s sharing meals, offering rides, helping with laundry, watching small children, providing housing to those on the margins–breaks every rule about privacy and self-protection that Americans value.

But this is not “The Year of Safe Things.” As C. S. Lewis reminds us in The Four Loves, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable.” Safety is not one of the fruits of the spirit, nor is it listed in scripture among the promises of God. If anything, the call of the gospel is to risk outrageously for the sake of Jesus and for the vulnerable whom he loves.

What we propose in our book is to start making the turn. To move in baby steps away from the false promises of the American Dream–safety, security, independence, privacy–and to move closer to Jesus. And moving closer to Jesus moves us inevitably closer to (1) his Body, the community of faith, and (2) to those on the margins (and don’t think for a moment those two groups are separate). Because that’s where we find him hanging out.

So is this year of small things risky? Yup. Is it worth it? Well, here are some of our thoughts about that.

Keep reading, keep thinking, keep walking with Jesus!

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Midwest area book-signings & events with Sarah Arthur

Dear fans & fellow readers,

Greetings from snowy southern Michigan! Not sure this weekend was much of a “spring forward”–more like a stumble in generally the right direction–but at least the days are getting longer. I hope this note finds you all well.

Photo credit: Dave Wasinger

As many of you know, my latest book is now out in the world, The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us, published by Brazos/Baker & co-authored with my friend & fellow church-member, Erin Wasinger. You can find lots of fun free content on our website, www.yearofsmallthings.com, including our Small Things podcast, links to our blog posts & articles, & other goodies.

I hope to see you at some of other upcoming events:

  • Sat, April 1 – Book-signing at Prairie Path Books in Wheaton, IL, 11 AM to 1 PM. For all you Wheaton College English Dept alumni, I’ll be joining the speakers series at the alumni dinner on Thurs, March 29.
  • Thurs, Apr 27 – Author event & book-signing at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, MI, 7 PM.
  • Mon-Wed, May 15-17 – Presenter at the Writing For Your Life Writers Workshop held at Western Theological Seminary, Holland MI. It’s not too late to sign up for the conference May 16-17 and to join my day-long retreat, which starts the day before.
  • Stay tuned for some possible Up North events in the Petoskey area closer to Memorial weekend.

As always, I love to hear from you! What are you reading these days?

Lenten blessings,

Posted in Events, Newsletter, Small Things, Speaking, writing | Leave a comment

The Year of Small Things coming soon!

Dear friends, colleagues, and fellow readers,

Forthcoming, Jan. 2017

Jan. 31, 2017

I’m excited to announce that my next book, The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us (Brazos Press/Baker)–co-authored with my friend and colleague, Erin Wasinger–is due in stores Jan. 31. Yay! It’s for anyone who is compelled to help make the world a better place but feels overwhelmed by debt or kids in diapers or health issues, fear and doubt. Do we have to become Christian radicals along the lines of Shane Claiborne (The Irresistible Revolution) or David Platt (Radical) in order to change the world for Jesus?

Here are some fun ways to learn more about this project:

  • Hang out at the Year of Small Things website & blog for updates, shareable graphics, & more. Be sure to subscribe to the blog between now and Feb. 15th, & you’ll be entered into a drawing for a free copy of the book! www.yearofsmallthings.com
  • Listen to the biweekly “Small Things” Podcast, featuring guest interviews with folks like Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Margot Starbuck, Joel Salatin (yes, the renegade chicken farmer from Food, Inc.!), & others.
  • Join the Year of Small Things Facebook group (with several hundred of your closest friends) for updates about events, discussion groups, book-signings, & more–plus brainstorm ideas with other fans in our ordinary-crazy tribe.
  • Preorder by Jan. 31st, and my publisher will send you a FREE downloadable calendar. Be sure to hang onto your receipt number & fill out the form at this link for your free calendar.
  • Watch & enjoy The Year of Small Things book trailer, then share the link with your friends.

Can’t wait to share this adventure with you! Keeping walking with Jesus.

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Have you written the next great Christian novel?

Some of the books that have caught my attention over the past several years.

Some of the books that have caught my attention over the past few years as CT’s fiction judge.

In addition to writing books, one of my coolest gigs is serving as the preliminary fiction judge for Christianity Today’s annual book awards. (I know, right?!) Since I have some studied opinions about the state of Christian fiction, I published an article for CT last week in which I outlined my criteria for how I choose the winning titles. And I threw down a challenge: Who will write the novel I want to read in  2017?

Since Friday I’ve received a veritable avalanche of responses–email, messages, comments, tweets from authors, aspiring authors, and even publishers–all while stuck at home in a polar vortex with two small boys on Christmas break. I hate to say this, but the boys played rock-paper-scissors with y’all and the boys won. I’m simply unable to reply to everyone personally. So, here’s my open letter about my open letter to Christian novelists and publishers:

Dear writers,

First off, let me say how awed I am by the fact that so many of you have finished or even published novels. This is a huge accomplishment. Lots of writers never manage to sustain and complete a complex work on that scale, ever. Congratulations!

Second, since there seems to be some confusion about how the CT judging works, let me clarify: I don’t review unsolicited material; it all comes through CT via their nominations process. Obviously the judging is finished for anything published in 2016, so the next round will open next June for books published or forthcoming in 2017. Stay tuned through CT’s online community for details. UPDATE: You do not have to be published with a Christian publishing house to qualify–trade publishers are also welcome to nominate titles.

Third, you are not required to accept everything I say as gospel (as my three-year-old will tell you). Here’s my hour-long interview by Chris Fabry of Moody Radio’s Chris Fabry Live on Dec. 20, in which he offers some thoughtful responses to my article as well as some helpful pushback. (And in which both he and I studiously avoid talking about his novel The Promise of Jesse Woods even though it was this year’s runner up. Such a humble, generous guy!). I hope the interview provides encouragement and food for thought.

Fourth, if you wish to learn more about how to submit material to publishers or about the state of publishing in general, please check out the writing conferences and webinars offered by Writing For Your Life.

Finally, as my Christmas gift to you, here’s a week’s worth of free Christmas reflections adapted from my anthology Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany (Paraclete Press). “It is a Word that has come to us, and words that tell the story of that Word from generation to generation.” How can we become the kind of people who both inhabit and tell a more lasting story?

In summary, the work you are doing as writers is worthy work–don’t give up!

Christmas blessings,

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Posted in Book reviews, fiction, literature, writing | 4 Comments

On baseball, elections, & why fiction – Part One

booksthatlastThe day after one of the biggest wins in sports history, with less than a week to go before a contentious presidential election (no hyperlink needed), seems an odd time to be writing fiction. I’m sleep-deprived, for one. And I have a lot of things to say besides inventing dialogue between pretend characters.

I believe this election matters. I have my own considered reasons why and what it could mean for my sons as they grow up. I have written roughly a dozen articles in my head on everything from–nope, I won’t go there (if you know me, even a little bit, you can probably guess). But despite the fact I’m getting ready to launch what could be perceived as my first-ever “political” book in January, I’m not weighing in on whatever happens next Tuesday. I’m writing fiction.

Copping out? Maybe. Maybe I’m just an ostrich shoving my head in the sand, as if inventing worlds can help me escape this one. Maybe I’m just exercising a particular brand of elitist privilege that allows me to blithely pursue a superfluous “hobby” while people out there are dying. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way. During the three years that my husband and I lived with the homeless in the inner city, I often felt like my job of writing about literature was basically the least helpful thing I could offer anyone. Can a hungry kid eat a book? Is this vocation putting a roof over anyone’s head? (I earn too little for that.) Should I be protesting something? Writing letters to Congress? I gave serious thought to abandoning the writing life altogether.

Dating Mr. DarcyYet I would return, again and again, to stories. Books by people like Dorothy Sayers and C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Jane Austen. Authors who wrote during wartime–even some, like Tolkien, from the front lines. Many of them had plenty of things to say about current events, as evidenced by their collections of letters. The poet T. S. Eliot, for instance, was an outspoken conservative who published political essays in the literary journal he founded, while Dorothy Sayers went to bat for women on issues of gender equality. I, for one, love her treatise Are Women Human? but rarely run into anyone else who’s heard of it. And I had no idea Eliot wrote political essays till a lecturer at a conference mentioned it–which perhaps betrays my limited knowledge of Eliot, or perhaps betrays something deeper, something about the nature of his real legacy.

My point? These authors gave the world something. But it wasn’t their opinions on the critical political decisions of their time. It wasn’t their pithy 140-character soundbites that shamed their enemies and changed no one’s minds. Their generation, too, had journalists and politicians and activists who triumphed and failed, some of whom we remember, many of whom we don’t. But what lasted were these authors’ stories.

~

Back to those three years with the homeless. Toward the middle of our stay, before my husband’s job took us to the suburbs of Lansing, MI, one of our guests had to have leg surgery. She was a recovering narcotics abuser from the streets, as different from me in race and class and life experiences as any friendship I could imagine; and her long recovery stretched the limits of our household’s energy and compassion. She, a bored and demanding sufferer; the rest of us running at top speed just to make sure everyone got fed and deadlines were met and paychecks deposited…God help us.

walking with frodoAt one point she had run out of movies to watch, so I brought her my limited collection: the boxed trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, extended editions. My caveats were plentiful: “It’s fantasy by a dead white guy. Lots of white guys running around. Almost no females, and they’re all white except the giant spider. I’m not offended if you hate it.” But she said, “Sure,” so I loaded movie number one into the DVD player and left.

Hours–maybe even days–later, as I stepped away from my laptop to grab some snacks from the kitchen, wafting down the hall came the soundtrack of The Return of the King. It swelled recognizably to the last, most certainly doomed battle before the gates of Mordor; I could practically taste my own remembered tears running down my cheeks. “For Frodo,” came the voice of Viggo Mortensen–then mayhem, Howard Shore’s unforgettable strings, the apparent triumph of evil at the end of all things. But somewhere in the midst of it rose that lone soprano–you know the one I mean–and all of sudden I heard my housemate yelling.

“The eagles!” she whooped, “the eagles are comin’!”

The house rocked with her roars of jubilation. “Thank you, Jesus, the eagles are comin’!”

~

I once heard Newbery winner Katherine Paterson say to a packed auditorium at the Festival of Faith & Writing, “I want to be a spy for hope.” And now I get it. After that moment in the hallway, my housemate’s joy ringing down the walls, I get it. This week, while following all the manic online activity and joyous enthusiasm around the kickoff to National Novel Writing Month, I get it. After turning to my Facebook community for encouragement–and receiving a flood of moving, hopeful responses–I get it.

Right now, what the world needs is for me to be writing fiction. What my sons need is for me to write stories they will read for themselves someday, long after the next president is gone. Stories for my homeless friends, stories that outlast today’s headlines, stories for my great-grandchildren or whenever the Cubs next win the World Series.

This is why fiction.

This is what I have to say.

(To read Part Two, click here.)

_______________________

Sarah Arthur - Photo 2Sarah Arthur is the author or editor of over eleven books, including Walking with Frodo: A Devotional Journey through The Lord of the Rings and the forthcoming The Year of Small Things, Radical Faith for the Rest of Us (Brazos Press, Jan 2017; with co-author Erin Wasinger). The preliminary fiction judge for the Christianity Book Awards, she speaks around the country on writing and publishing. When she isn’t chasing two small boys around the house she can be found writing fiction while listening to the Yo-Yo Ma station on Pandora. www.saraharthur.com

Posted in fiction, literature, The Inklings, Tolkien, writing | 2 Comments

Why fiction? – Part Two

A few weeks ago I woke up on a work day (I get only two per week) contemplating spending the morning writing some kind of public lament and personal confession regarding this presidential election. But something in me hesitated. This was not, I felt quite certain, my given task. Which was odd, because it seemed really, really important. Like, social justice important. Like, standing-before-God-accountable-someday important. But what was really tugging on me instead was a novel I’ve been chipping away at for (count them) fourteen years. Why the sudden urgency?

bookstackSo I turned to Facebook and posted the following:

“Today I’m supposed to be writing fiction. Please remind me why this is important, why someone has to be writing stories that will outlast us, for the sake of my children, no matter what happens in November. Feel free to post your pep talks here. (Comments containing words like ‘election,’ ‘candidate,’ names of famous people of questionable moral character, etc., will be deleted without apology. I love you all.)”

The response? A deluge of encouragement from childhood friends, fans of my nonfiction, grad school buddies, publishing colleagues, people from church, family–none of whom have ever read my novels. Because I’ve yet to finish one.

I wrote two chapters that day–and six last month alone. This is what happens when communal discernment galvanizes the work you were born to do. 

With permission, here are the marvelous comments I received.

Why fiction?

Yes we need your fiction Sarah! These stories are the holders of beauty and truth and wisdom and goodness. Write for hope! – Catherine Carlson McNiel

I have two words for you – bucket filling! – Gretchen Williams

We need to know we’re part of a bigger story, Sarah. That this year, even this lifetime, is but one thin thread in a great tapestry. Write so we remember that God can take even the worst tragedies and find a way to bring about more joy, more peace and more love.
Kristin Kratky

TellMeStoryFinalMy favorite musician, Andrew Peterson, also writes books. When talking about them he likes to [paraphrase] G.K. Chesterton: “We don’t tell fairy tales to tell our children that dragons exist. They know that. We tell fairy tales to let our children know that dragons can be beaten.”
Jonathan VanDop

Girl, you were meant to do this. I recall talks about writing fiction that go back many years. We need your voice, content, strength and skill!
Marta Arthur (mother-in-law)

When I was a kid, fiction opened my eyes to the world beyond my little town and let me imagine who I might become. – Dayna Olson-Getty

Fiction allows people to escape the madness. – Amanda Shoemaker

I subscribe to a writing newsletter by Holly Lisle and she sent out her most recent one in the face of possibly losing everything to Hurricane Matthew. It was an email filled with gratitude and reflection and there’s an applicable quote that I gleaned from it that I think fits your request:  “Fiction, both writing it and reading it, matters. Fiction is our dream of the way the world could be and should be, drawn against all the ways it should never be, and presented as a promise that what we can envision, we can create.” Keep writing, Sarah. Help be part of the creation of the world you envision.Candy Bryant

Written well, fiction tells us the truth about who we are and who we can be. Please write stories that tell the truth and are tinged with grace (which is as deeply true as anything else). – Liz DeGaynor

Important—and faithful–because it’s what you were designed to do. – Margot Starbuck

From one fiction writer to another: it matters! Because there are those who only read fiction, and they need our stories of truth and grace. – Terri Kraus

Jonah Sachs, in “Winning the Story Wars,” says “human beings share stories to remind each other of who they are and how they should act.” Write us a good one, Sarah!
Michael Poteet

A book, too, can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” (Madeleine L’Engle) Sarah, you write like a star. And I do mean that both ways…because you are amazing and talented and rock-star-like, but also because your words and stories shine brightly in a dark world. Write on! – Stephanie Voiland Rische

Write for all the children like the son of C. S. Lewis’s correspondent (and like me) who might love Aslan more than Jesus. – Sarah Rubio

Because we want you to have a reason to come back to Oklahoma to see us! We love your writings! – Jill Ade Biggs

When I am weary from reading too many news articles, I turn to my favorite authors of fiction. Someday you will be someone’s favorite “author of fiction.”
Peg Faulman (thanks, mom!)

I can’t wait to read your fiction! I remember enjoying those writings about Walloon Lake!
Judy White Brusslan (other mother-in-law)

Fiction takes us in to our imaginations of what could be–something we all need!
Teresa Miller

frederick-by-leo-lionniI am gathering words. For the winter days are long and many, and we’ll run out of things to say.”
Daniel Ledingham, quoting from the book Frederick by Leo Lionni

To inspire us to explore our dreams. Fictional stories allow for the author, and the reader, to explore their hopes as well as their fears. While non-fiction portrays what is, fiction allows the thinking of what can be. – Julia Scott

As my Hebrew Bible prof said at VDS: Just because it’s not true doesn’t mean it’s not truthful.
Andrea Roth Murdock

Because you are supposed to give me your fiction to look over. – Katherine James

Also, Sarah, go write fiction and block Facebook. – Erin Wasinger

You have a gift. A gift has to be opened to see what’s inside. Then it can be shared. Carry on! – Patty McCoy

Write because that’s what you are so beautifully gifted to do. Create the stories that lift up humanity into realms of grace and love and ground us in what is most important. Write because it is fun. Write because someone needs to find their story embedded in yours. Go. Write. For all of us.Nikki O’Brien

How about you? Why write fiction? Post your comments here and keep sharing the love!

(Read part one on “Why Fiction” here.)

_______________________

Sarah Arthur - Photo 2Sarah Arthur is the author or editor of over eleven books, including Walking with Frodo: A Devotional Journey through The Lord of the Rings and the forthcoming The Year of Small Things, Radical Faith for the Rest of Us (Brazos Press, Jan 2017; with co-author Erin Wasinger). The preliminary fiction judge for the Christianity Book Awards, she speaks around the country on writing and publishing. When she isn’t chasing two small boys around the house she can be found writing fiction while listening to the Yo-Yo Ma station on Pandora. www.saraharthur.com

Posted in fiction, literature, writing | 6 Comments

Fall 2016 update & book launch team

Dear friends & fellow readers,

fallfamily16

Arthur family Oct 2016

Greetings from your favorite Michigan author! Some of you have been asking about my next project (see below), and how the kids are doing (thriving, thanks), and whether or not I’m ever going to finish fiction (getting there).

Despite the busy intensity of our family life–including a newly minted kindergartner and my husband’s expanded job (he is now Lead Executive Pastor over several sites/venues of Sycamore Creek Church in Lansing, MI), I’m enjoying a much saner season. I’m taking a break from major contracts, enjoying the freedom to read & write fiction, and generally giving myself permission to rest. Also, Sam (age 3) is almost potty-trained. (Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, but hmm…)

Forthcoming, Jan. 2017

Forthcoming, Jan. 2017

That being said, I’m super excited about the launch of my next book, coming from Brazos Press in Jan 2017, called The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us. Co-authored with my friend & fellow church leader Erin Wasinger, it traces our two families’ year-long experiment translating some of the more “radical” practices of modern monasticism (e.g., hospitality to the homeless, simplicity, sustainability, etc.) into our suburban context. For anyone who has ever found activists like Shane Claiborne compelling but can’t imagine what downward-mobility for Christ looks like right now–especially when you’re overwhelmed with debt, kids in diapers, or incredulous friends & relatives–this book is for you.

Some fun opportunities as you await the book’s release:

  • We’re already blogging at www.yearofsmallthings.com, so be sure to check us out!
  • Join our Facebook group to connect with other readers, ask questions, brainstorm ideas, & get updates about our book-signings & events.
  • Ready to jump on board the Book Launch Team? (We’ll give you a FREE BOOK in exchange for helping spread the word.) Follow this link to learn more–and be sure to fill out the online form by Nov. 5.
  • Preorders make great Christmas gifts! The book is already available for preorder from various online retailers–so be sure to check our preorder page for a list of retailers & updates about some fun “freemiums” coming soon from our publisher.

Blessings on this fall season, & keep walking with Jesus!

signatureSarah Arthur - Photo 2

 

P.S. Looking for more regular interaction? Follow my author page on Facebook & find me on Twitter @Holy Dreaming. See you there!

 

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Writing For Your Life

I’m repeatedly asked to consult with aspiring writers (those I know and those I don’t) on how to get started, how to break into the publishing industry, whether their book concept or manuscript has any merit, how to craft a proposal, etc. If this is you, then you can’t go wrong with the Writing For Your Life webinars. Think of them as world-class writing conferences happening in your very own office. Famous authors and industry professionals in real time. You don’t have to fly anywhere. You can wear pajamas. You can get answers to your specific questions (yes, Q&As are included!). And the whole package is incredibly reasonable. (NOTE: Even if you can’t make it to the live webinars at their appointed times, you can still watch them on your own time up till Nov. 30, 2016.)

If you haven’t yet registered for the Sept. 2016 webinars, which start next week (featuring Rachel Held Evans, Jonathan Merritt, Father James Martin, yours truly, etc.), there’s still time. And stay tuned for the Writing For Your Life Conference May 16-17, 2017 at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI — headliners are Barbara Brown Taylor and Rachel Held Evans!

September flyer

 

Posted in Speaking, writing | 2 Comments

Video Review of Ashlee Cowles’ “Beneath Wandering Stars”

Friends, I love this new breakout novel by my colleague, fellow Duke Divinity grad, and–a detail we discovered only AFTER we figured out the Duke connection, the writing connection, our shared love of C. S. Lewis, and a number of a coincidences–my second cousin once removed, Ashlee Cowles. Beneath Wandering Stars is gorgeous, eloquent, and a much-needed echo of ancient faith. Five stars!!!

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