Through her exquisite poetry and prose, Ashley Mae Hoiland offers what she aptly terms ‘the sacred writ of my life.’ Her intensely personal stories capture the experiences of daughter, sister, wife, mother, missionary, friend, and stranger—all framed within her thoughtful explorations of belief and being. This spiritual autobiography is richly textured with honesty, compassion, and reverence. There is no trite homily here, but rather an abundance of finely turned phrases to ponder. The spare words make their own music while simple line drawings accentuate the poet’s artistry. Hoiland’s reflections are very female and very Mormon, but she sounds a universal ring in her struggle to find God and embrace all God’s children in a world that ‘both is and is not perfect.’ There is wonder here, and wholeness and holiness, that carries the reader into his or her own soul.
Ashley Mae Hoiland cracks open her heart in this book and reveals a singular Mormon experience that, in all its joy, pain, and complication, we recognize as our own. She gives us illustrations, poetry, and prose in vivid vignettes—pictures in words that, in their kaleidoscopic total, capture the lived reality of Mormon life far more richly than any one of those things could in isolation. By taking us through her childhood conversion, her youth, her mission, single adulthood, and the exquisite emotions of motherhood, she shows that religious life is about living far more than it is about believing. The lifeblood of her faith pulses through these pages.
Interweaving the personal with the prophetic, this book invokes the deepest questions about the foundations of faith. It is a written reflection of the push and pull of emotions and actions which shape who we are within our own personal journeys. Ashley Mae Hoiland’s vulnerability in her writing strengthens her invitation to examine how faith bends and stretches over the course of one’s life. In doing so, she offers a sweeping narrative of a passage not too far from our own.
This brave collection of revelatory meditations and illustrations traverses Ashley Mae Hoiland’s unique spiritual landscape. Feeling that she has lost God hundreds of times, she finds him again in personal episodes, relationships, nature, dreams, imagination, stories, scriptures, memory, and testimony. These turn her from a life in crisis to one of ongoing exploration. The reader can find herself in this search and these pictures.
In an age of rare originality, Ashley Mae Hoiland manages to explore one of the last frontiers of Mormonism: the search for the divine feminine. Her encounters with feminine spiritual forces are so entwined with the language, experiences, and resources of Mormonism that we recognize them as having been there all along, while at the same time being revelations of something entirely new. Hoiland’s spiritual autobiography is a revolution in Mormon testimony, describing faith journeying in uniquely fresh and authentic imagery. Absolutely beautiful.
Discussions about challenges in contemporary Mormonism often fall into predictable patterns, both in content and in structure. Ashley Mae Hoiland’s gorgeously written reflections situate themselves quite to the side of the usual debates. Instead of giving answers, Hoiland describes a deeply personal process of spirituality. By inviting readers to accompany her along the spiritual side paths of everyday life, she shows them how connection to God and to other people can emerge from creative attention to the ordinary. Spiritual life, she suggests, is a quiet sort of art. Opportunities to create it abound, especially in the quotidian relationships that are the basic stuff of our lives. This book provides an occasion to study that art with one of its understated masters. I commend it—and her—to you.
With a rare combination of rawness and transcendence, Ashley Mae Hoiland courageously weaves personal stories and visual art into an awe-inspiring tapestry infused with faith. Her ability to mine the depths of everyday moments to discover the grandeur in the messiness of Mormonism and of womanhood makes this book a rare treasure. 'One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly' moved the deepest parts of my soul unlike any book I have ever read. Ashley Mae’s story is my story. It is our story. And I thank her for offering it so generously and for telling it so beautifully.
Ashley Mae Hoiland has found God in places that most of us never think to look: in cruelty and poverty, in emptiness and desire, and in people whose divinity is buried deep within all-too-human frames. She shapes her stories of searching and discovery into elegant prose poems recalling the work of Sandra Cisneros and Terry Tempest Williams. But Hoiland’s voice is wholly original. Her journeys through landscapes of faith end in neither certainty nor doubt, but in a mature and reflective faith at home in the spaces between. Contemporary Mormonism needs Hoiland’s stories and example. In this compulsively readable work of art, she teaches us how to turn the raw experiences of a life into beautiful things, and then she shows us, as only a true artist can, how those beautiful things can also be holy.
'I believe we can find God in many ways,' writes Ashley Mae Hoiland, and her remarkable volume bears out that belief in both content and form. In fjords and in forests, in mission and in motherhood, Hoiland susses out traces of the divine. Her purpose is not to define God, but rather to find God in all God’s resistance to definition. Hoiland’s imagistic, candid reflections, unfolding without the constraint of linear narrative, perform their devotions from oblique angles and shifting stances. The insights that accumulate on the wings of these 'One Hundred Birds' are—we come to realize as we read into and around in them—not distinguishable from the process of attention that allows such insight to flourish, to transform both the thing attended to and the one who attends. There’s a word for that kind of attention—it’s 'reverence.'
We live in days when debates over history, politics, and cultural issues absorb the attention of many Mormon thinkers, sometimes at the expense of careful attention to the quiet rhythms of Mormon living. But what if peace in our lives and communities is not to be found by identifying the 'right' positions so much as by reawakening the often-neglected Mormon imagination? In this book, Ashley Mae Hoiland turns her artistic vision and lyrical power toward her Mormon life, weaving together memories—of both significant occasions and fleeting everyday perceptions—in an attempt to capture 'the sacred writ of [her] life.' It’s work that doubly blesses the reader: by giving us a glimpse into another’s spiritual life and by encouraging us to pay more imaginative attention to our own.
This is simply the most artful and perceptive writing about Mormonism I have encountered in a long, long time. The impressionistic glimpses that Ashley Mae Hoiland offers into her experience as a Latter-day Saint woman are clear-eyed, generous, and moving. Through her eyes one gets a sense not only of delight in the beauty of the world and in the love and power of a Heavenly Father and Mother, but also mourning for the loneliness and difficulty that shape human experience, often in such uneven ways. Hoiland’s deep love and appreciation for Mormonism, ‘the house whose halls I know best,’ shines forth from every page, alongside her loyal sympathy for those who carry deep wounds from their encounters at church. Hoiland’s accounts of teenage spiritual searching, missionary adventure, motherhood, and her wrestle with gender issues in Mormon culture are familiar yet startlingly luminous as she paints a tender, sympathetic portrait of the many fellow travelers who have lifted and taught her along the way.
Ashley Mae Hoiland writes with authenticity and grace. Her pages contain a profoundly affecting memoir. In telling it she plies a nonlinear format with all the sensibilities of an artist and a storyteller’s eye for detail. Intimate and vulnerable, she is Mormonism’s Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
The Mormon belief that God speaks to us according to our own language and unto our understanding is beautifully represented in this unique composition. To Ashley Mae Hoiland, God speaks in prose, poetry, and art to convey truths—both hidden and uncovered. For those of us who know the language of the creative thinker, Hoiland’s work becomes a transcription of divinity.
Here is a book where the word is made flesh. This account of Mormon spirituality isn’t abstracted from living; it brings us directly into the very interstices of daily encounters with beauty, laughter, sorrow, and grace, where divinity resides. It is more than a plea to live with questions. It is a testament to the fact that, as Hoiland puts it, the 'quietness of God is trust,' and that in our stories—flawed and raw and seemingly chaotic—can be found the sacraments of renewal if we but learn to see our lives with greater compassion and deeper gratitude. Hoiland offers us a healing book for troubled times.
As Terry Tempest Williams observed, 'Mormon women write. This is what we do, we write for posterity, noting the daily happenings of our lives. Keeping a journal is keeping a record.' 'One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly' is the record of a Mormon woman striving in big and small ways to find God in daily happenings, big and small. Ashley Mae Hoiland’s tiny heartfelt stories and remembrances weave in and out to form a larger spiritual narrative with honesty, bravery, and vulnerability. Immeasurably beautiful.
This book powerfully illustrates the truth that the rich tapestry of our lives and faith is woven of thousands of small moments—the joyful, the painful, and the mundane. Hoiland’s stories inspire us not only to recognize the grace and power of these small moments, but also to examine and find within them our own voice and capacity for greatness. Her journey is a beautiful reminder that by embracing the tension between faith and doubt we can move beneath the superficial surface to a place of godliness. Her words inspire me to extend more grace—to others and to myself.