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It’s a cold morning here in South Dakota. We’re expecting snow this afternoon, just enough to cover the ground in white-Christmas fashion.

Here in our living room, the Christmas tree is lit. The hearth has a warm fire. I’m listening to a fabulous playlist of holiday favorites performed by jazz greats. Right now, Charles Brown is crooning “Merry Christmas, Baby.”

Like Mr. Brown, “I’m feelin’ mighty fine.”

For the moment, I’m choosing to forget about wars and protests and mass shootings and inflation and climate change. I’m laying down my fretting about folks I love. I’m relaxing about what I have to get done before leaving town for the weekend.

Yes, for the moment, I’m just basking in this. I’m sitting here on the couch, one cat curled in sleep on either side of me, and I’m writing a few “rays of light.” Did I ever write one for you?

I started this custom a couple of years ago. When anyone signs up to follow my work (now, on The Raft), I send them a welcome message with this promise:

If you answer this email and tell me a bit about yourself, I’ll eventually send you a short but inspiring message in reply. A personalized ray of light, just for you.

Of course, not everybody’s eager to have their inbox light up. But when a reader does reply to my welcome message, I get to do what I’m doing now: craft a little “ray of light,” a personalized poem, just for them. It’s a way of presenting them with an appreciative gift—

  • by demonstrating that they matter to me
  • by offering my full attention to what they’ve told me
  • by reflecting back to them something significant I’ve heard or sensed in their text
  • by sharing my own expressivity, using the vehicle of their own words

I’d like to give you a peek behind the curtain at how I do this, because you might want to experiment with it, too, using correspondence that you receive. It’s fun!


How I write a “ray of light”
  1. I copy the text of the message I received from the reader. It may be several paragraphs long or fewer than a dozen words.
  2. I paste the text twice into a Word document. The first copy becomes my creative “playground.” The second copy I don’t touch. It’s just there for reference, if needed.
  3. I search the playground text for words that “shimmer”—that seem to have energy and special significance. I delete everything else. This is an intuitive process. I try not to think too much.
  4. From the remaining list of words, I craft a short poem, bearing in mind what little I know about the person I’m writing it for. When absolutely necessary, I add minor words of my own, or alter the original language (e.g., I may change the tense), but I like to avoid this.
  5. I send the “ray of light” to its recipient.

I don’t write “rays of light” with the intention of profiting off them. I don’t even keep copies of them. But by conducting a search of my “sent” emails, I’ve rounded up some random examples to share with you (keep scrolling). Enjoy!

This special season of gift-giving can also be a special season of gift-making,
if only we give ourselves permission to play!

Ray of Light #1

I can’t resist
your invitation
to love delight

We are all minstrels
singing beneath the same stars
as our ancestors

Why not give it a try?

Ray of Light #2

I needed to find words of hope
not just platitudes or overused scripture
but living words

And now
after walking around the top
of a great funnel
I have fallen into
the deep poem
of my

After all the devastation
flowers come up again

Ray of Light #3

My previous life
is so upended

is the work I loved

is the long haul of Covid
and cancer
and chemotherapy
and grief about climate change
and fear we are near
the end of our Democracy

I am so tired

I am not afraid

Yet I am afraid

How to make the rest
of my life

Central now
is what I care about


I am not finished

Ray of Light #4

In this season of learning
I am loving myself better,
setting my boundaries,
exploring my free will,
surrendering my expectations.

Even though I am alone,
I am not alone.

I am living into the not-knowing,
ready for the teacher
to appear.

Some are already here.

Ray of Light #5

We can survive
all we have to endure
if we share it
with enough honesty.

That isn’t a scam.
That’s the truth.
Bone that keeps growing back.

Ray of Light #6

Tell me what time means
And I’ll tell you my life
means more

Ray of Light #7

She gives and gives
and gives and gives
and gives and gives
and gives and gives

until she feels so empty
she has to stop

and that’s when
she finds
her soul

Photo by Mads Schmidt Rasmussen on Unsplash
Phyllis Cole-Dai

Phyllis Cole-Dai has authored or edited eleven books in multiple genres, including historical fiction, spiritual nonfiction and poetry. She lives in Brookings, South Dakota, USA.

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