Celebrating Epiphany and Women’s Christmas

January 5, 2017 by Jan Richardson

Wise Women Also CameImage: Wise Women Also Came © Jan Richardson

Friends, thank you so much for traveling through Advent and Christmas with me here at The Advent Door! I am so grateful for the blessing of your company in this season.

With Epiphany close at hand, I’ve returned to my blog at The Painted Prayerbook and would love for you to join me there. I’ve recently posted a blessing for Epiphany; you can find it at Epiphany Day: Where the Map Begins.

I especially want to let you know about a gift I have for you! You might know that some folks celebrate Epiphany (January 6) as Women’s Christmas. Originating in Ireland, where it is known as Nollaig na mBan, Women’s Christmas began as a day when the women set aside time to enjoy a break and celebrate together at the end of the holidays.

It’s become a tradition for me to create a new retreat each year that you can use on Women’s Christmas or whenever you need some time for respite and reflection, alone or with others. This year’s retreat is titled “Walking the Way of Hope” and includes readings, art, questions, and blessings. You can download it as a PDF.

There is no cost for the retreat. It’s my Women’s Christmas gift to you, with such gratitude for your presence on my path. (And it’s not for women only!) For a link to the retreat and more about Women’s Christmas, visit this page at my Sanctuary of Women blog:

Women’s Christmas 2017: Walking the Way of Hope

I would love for you to pass along the gift by sharing the link with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, or any other way you’re connected.

In this new year, I pray that you will know the gift of hope, especially when it feels most elusive. I am so grateful for you and for the hope you provide for me. Deepest blessings to you.

P.S. Our festive Advent discount on annual subscriptions to the Jan Richardson Images site continues through Epiphany, plus a few days! An annual subscription enables you to download any images for use in worship during the year. Advent rate: $125 (regularly $165). Extended through January 9. Click Subscribe to sign up.

[To use the Wise Women Also Came image or order it as a print, please visit this page at Jan Richardson Images.]

Christmas Day: What Fire Comes to Sing in You

December 24, 2016 by Jan Richardson

Image: In Reverence © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels for Christmas Day: John 1.1-14

The true light, which enlightens everyone,
was coming into the world.
—John 1.9

There is a door in our heart that opens onto eternity. This accounts for how the heart can grow so spacious; it does not reckon only with what we can see in front of us. Neither is it bound by linear time. Our heartbeat echoes with the hopes of those who have gone before us, the dreams of those who will come after us, and with the love of the One who holds us across time and beyond it.

When we celebrate, the door onto eternity opens. Whether in gladness or in sorrow, in difficulty or in ease, celebration is a living act of hope, a recognition that there is more at work than what we can see.

Christmas offers a time to revel in this fact. At the same time, it gives us a glimpse of that “more” that is continually at work on our behalf. Christmas invites us to remember how heaven and earth met in the person of Jesus, who did not merely condescend to take flesh but took delight in it, and who found cause for joy even in sorrow. In this season we remember that heaven and earth continue to meet as we welcome Christ and allow his story to live in us.

Eternity can be a lot to take in. So it comes to us most often in small ways, weaving through our everyday lives, showing up in celebrations we might not have even thought of as celebrations: lighting a candle, sharing a table, offering thanks, singing amidst the shadows—all those moments when hope takes flesh in us, a door in our heart swings open, and heaven and earth meet.

O my friends, may heaven and earth meet in us this day. Merry Christmas!

What Fire Comes to Sing in You
A Blessing

This blessing
had big ideas
about what it wanted
to say,
what it wanted you
to know,
to see.

This blessing wanted
to open your eyes
to the joy that lives
in such strange company
with sorrow—
wanted to make sure
to tell you,
lest you forget,
that no matter how long
it seems absent,
no matter how quiet
it becomes,
joy has never
been far from you,
holding a space
of celebration,
watching for you,
humming as it
keeps vigil.

But now that
it comes time
to speak it—
comes time to
lay these words
on your brow,
your beating heart—
all this blessing
can think to say is

Look—
your life
a candle,
this day
a match.
Strike it and see
what blazes,
what fire comes
to sing in you.

—Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow

The Cure for SorrowJUST RELEASED!

A blessing meets us in the place of our deepest loss. In that place, it gives us a glimpse of wholeness and claims that wholeness here and now. —from the Introduction

Jan’s much-anticipated new book enters with heartbreaking honesty into the rending that loss brings. It moves, too, into the unexpected shelters of solace and hope, inviting us to recognize the presence of love that, as she writes, is “sorrow’s most lasting cure.”

Order the Book

 

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “In Reverence,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. During Advent, subscribe to Jan Richardson Images and receive unlimited digital downloads for only $125 per year (regularly $165). Click Subscribe to sign up.

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

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Advent 4: Blessing of Courage

December 18, 2016 by Jan Richardson

Image: Gift of Courage © Jan Richardson

An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid.”
—Matthew 1.20

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 4, Year A: Matthew 1.18-25

It’s a question that has pressed on me since Gary’s death. How do we say yes to a life we did not choose? Every morning I wake into a world I did not count on. Every day I have to figure out how to enter this life that has presented itself to me, so altered from what Gary and I had imagined.

The year I married Gary, I wrote a reflection about Joseph (Advent 4: The Annunciation to Joseph). I wrote about falling in love with a man who had a son, about choosing this son and this life, about loving this life I had not envisioned.

Now the story of Joseph comes around again—the story of this man who, in listening to his dreaming, learned to say yes to the life he had not expected. And his story compels me to ask myself again, now on this side of Gary’s dying, How do we say yes to a life we did not choose?

This yes is not something we can always summon on our own. It is not a response we can manufacture by our own strength of will. This yes depends on a constellation of gifts. Some of those gifts are ones we need to learn to ask for. Some of those gifts will find us without our even knowing we needed them.

I love how in Joseph’s dreaming, the angel comes not only with a compelling invitation, an annunciation designed especially for him, but also with a needed gift. Do not be afraid, the angel tells him. These are the same words the angel Gabriel told Mary in her own annunciation. Do not be afraid. In asking Joseph to say yes to what might seem an impossible life, the angel does not leave him to his own devices. Do not be afraid, the angel tells the dreaming man.

The angel comes bearing the gift of courage to Joseph. Courage to say yes to the life he had not envisioned. Courage to keep saying yes to this woman, this child, this God, this path that will take him far beyond anything he has ever imagined for himself. Courage that will keep coming as gift, as dream, as blessing for his way.

On this Advent day, how are you being invited to say yes to a life you did not choose? What fear do you need to let go of in order to offer this yes? How might it be to ask for the courage you need, and to open yourself to the ways this courage wants to meet you in your waking, your dreaming?

Blessing of Courage

I cannot say
where it lives,
only that it comes
to the heart
that is open,
to the heart
that asks,
to the heart
that does not turn away.

It can take practice,
days of tugging at
what keeps us bound,
seasons of pushing against
what keeps our dreaming
small.

When it arrives,
it might surprise you
by how quiet it is,
how it moves
with such grace
for possessing
such power.

But you will know it
by the strength
that rises from within you
to meet it,
by the release
of the knot
in the center of
your chest
that suddenly lets go.

You will recognize it
by how still
your fear becomes
as it loosens its grip,
perhaps never quite
leaving you,
but calmly turning
into joy
as you enter the life
that is finally
your own.

—Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow

The Cure for SorrowJUST RELEASED!

A blessing meets us in the place of our deepest loss. In that place, it gives us a glimpse of wholeness and claims that wholeness here and now. —from the Introduction

Jan’s much-anticipated new book enters with heartbreaking honesty into the rending that loss brings. It moves, too, into the unexpected shelters of solace and hope, inviting us to recognize the presence of love that, as she writes, is “sorrow’s most lasting cure.”

Order the Book

 

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Gift of Courage,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. During Advent, subscribe to Jan Richardson Images and receive unlimited digital downloads for only $125 per year (regularly $165). Click Subscribe to sign up.

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Advent 3: In Sorrow and Celebration

December 11, 2016 by Jan Richardson

Image: The Desert in Advent © Jan Richardson

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom.
—Isaiah 35.1

Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, Advent 3: Isaiah 35.1-10

Yesterday we had a party to celebrate the release of my new book, The Cure for Sorrow.  In the midst of the celebration, I gave a reading. As I began, I took in the faces of those who had gathered: longtime friends, new acquaintances, people I was meeting for the first time that day. They were beautiful and wondrous and graced. I told them this was the real reason I wrote books: to be able to have a gathering like this, to be with all of them together in the same room.

I was joking only a little.

Following so close on the third anniversary of Gary’s death, it came as a particular grace to gather with these particular folks. We were there because of a book about grief. Yet in the midst of the sorrow we have each carried, there was the presence of joy, of hearts open to the ways that God leavens our grief with gladness.

We sometimes draw sharp distinctions between grief and joy, sorrow and celebration. This is understandable, given how loss lays waste to our hearts and alters the world we have known and loved. The season of Advent, however, challenges the notion that joy and sorrow live in separate realms, that we can have one or the other but never both at the same time.

In one of the readings for this week, we encounter Isaiah’s description of a creation rejoicing in its redemption. His vision is not just of a far-off future for which we have to wait; it is a vision of the life that God offers to us here and now.

This is what Christ came to show us, to embody in our midst. In our keenest sorrow, in our deepest darkness, Christ entered as joy enfleshed. He showed us that celebration is not a someday thing, a state of joyous completion that we cannot attain until life gets better. Rejoicing is what happens when, in the midst of the darkness that attends us, we open our hearts to the Christ who comes to us still. Celebration is what happens when we allow sorrow to have its say but refuse to let it have the final word.

In this season, what gives you cause for rejoicing?

Blessing the Desert

Ask me what
this blessing sounds like
and I will tell you
about the wind
that hollows everything
it finds.

I will tell you
about locusts
who chose this night
to offer their awful,
rasping song.

I will tell you
about rock faces
and how it sounds
when what was sturdy
and solid
suddenly shears away.

But give me long enough,
and I will tell you also
how beneath the wind,
a silence,

not of absence
or of agony
that leaves all speechless
and stricken
when it comes,
but of rest,
of dreaming,

of the seed
that knows its season

and the wordless
canticle of stars
that will not cease
their singing
even when we cannot bear
to hear.

—Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow

The Cure for SorrowJUST RELEASED!

A blessing meets us in the place of our deepest loss. In that place, it gives us a glimpse of wholeness and claims that wholeness here and now. —from the Introduction

Jan’s much-anticipated new book enters with heartbreaking honesty into the rending that loss brings. It moves, too, into the unexpected shelters of solace and hope, inviting us to recognize the presence of love that, as she writes, is “sorrow’s most lasting cure.”

Order the Book

 

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “The Desert in Advent,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. During Advent, subscribe to Jan Richardson Images and receive unlimited digital downloads for only $125 per year (regularly $165). Click Subscribe to sign up.

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Advent 2: Blessing of Hope

December 4, 2016 by Jan Richardson

So That You May Know the HopeImage: So That You May Know the Hope © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Epistles, Advent 2, Year A: Romans 15.4-13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
—Romans 15.13

On this strange path of grief, I have found hope to be a curiously stubborn creature. It is persistent. It visits when I least expect it. It shows up when I haven’t been looking for it. Even when it seems like hope should be a stranger, there is something deeply familiar about it. If I open my eyes to it, I know its face, even when I do not know where it is leading me.

Though hope may sometimes seem like a luxury—frivolous, groundless, insubstantial—it is precisely the opposite. Hope is elemental. It is made of some of the strongest stuff in the universe. It endures.

Hope does not depend on our mood, our disposition, our desire. Hope does not wait until we are ready for it, until we have prepared ourselves for its arrival. It doesn’t hold itself apart from us until we have worked through the worst of our sorrow, our anger, our fear. This is precisely where hope seeks us out, standing with us in the midst of what most weighs us down.

Hope has work for us to do. It asks us to resist going numb when the world within us or beyond us is falling apart. In the height of despair, in the deepest darkness, hope calls us to open our hearts, our eyes, our hands, that we might engage the world when it breaks our hearts. Hope goes with us, step by step, providing the sustenance we most need.

“Hope,” writes W. Paul Jones in Trumpet at Full Moon, “is the simple trust that God has not forgotten the recipe for manna.”

In these Advent days, what are you hoping for?

Blessing of Hope

So may we know
the hope
that is not just
for someday
but for this day—
here, now,
in this moment
that opens to us:

hope not made
of wishes
but of substance,

hope made of sinew
and muscle
and bone,

hope that has breath
and a beating heart,

hope that will not
keep quiet
and be polite,

hope that knows
how to holler
when it is called for,

hope that knows
how to sing
when there seems
little cause,

hope that raises us
from the dead—

not someday
but this day,
every day,
again and
again and
again.

—Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow

The Cure for SorrowJUST RELEASED!

A blessing meets us in the place of our deepest loss. In that place, it gives us a glimpse of wholeness and claims that wholeness here and now. —from the Introduction

Jan’s much-anticipated new book enters with heartbreaking honesty into the rending that loss brings. It moves, too, into the unexpected shelters of solace and hope, inviting us to recognize the presence of love that, as she writes, is “sorrow’s most lasting cure.”

Order the Book

 

Book Celebration: If you’re in the Orlando vicinity on Saturday, December 10, we’d love for you to join us for a gathering to celebrate the publication of The Cure for Sorrow! It will be held at the beautiful All Saints Episcopal Church in Winter Park. You can find details in my latest newsletter here.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “So That You May Know the Hope,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. During Advent, subscribe to Jan Richardson Images and receive unlimited digital downloads for only $125 per year (regularly $165). Click Subscribe to sign up.

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Advent 1: The Vigil Kept for Us

November 27, 2016 by Jan Richardson

Heart Coming HomeImage: Heart Coming Home © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 1, Year A: Matthew 24.36-44

Keep awake.
—Matthew 24.42

As Advent has approached once again, I have had vigils on my mind. Three years ago, as Advent began, we were nearing the end of the vigil we had kept for my husband following his fateful surgery. Gary died on the second day of Advent, forever altering the way I enter into this season of expectation.

When we have had an experience of waiting that ended in devastation instead of joy, when we have kept a vigil that drew us into grief instead of celebration, it can be difficult to know just how to navigate the call that lies at the heart of Advent: to wait, to watch, to wake.

This year, as Advent begins and I wonder about what it means to wait, I cannot shake the sense that there is a vigil being kept for me: that I am being waited for, that I am being watched over, that there is one who lingers at the edge of my awareness, breathing with me and blessing me as I move through these days.

Advent asks us to keep vigil for the Christ who comes to us anew in this season. It invites us to keep our face turned toward the horizon in hope. But Advent asks us also to open our hearts to the Christ who keeps vigil for us, the Christ who stands not on some distant horizon but, instead, is already with us, waiting for us to open our eyes to his presence that stays with us always.

As Advent begins, may you be blessed in your vigil: the one you keep, the one being kept for you. In that vigil, may you find your deepest welcome and know yourself at home. Peace.

Blessing the House of the Heart

If you could see
how this blessing
shimmers inside you,
you would never wonder
whether there will be
light enough,
time enough,
room enough for you.

If you could see
the way this blessing
has inscribed itself
on every wall
of your heart,
writing its shining line
across every doorway,
tracing the edge
of every window
and table
and hall—

if you could see this,
you would never question
where home is
or whether it has
a welcome for you.

This blessing wishes
to give you
a glimpse.
It will not tell you
it has been waiting.
It will not tell you
it has been keeping watch.
It would not
want you to know
just how long
it has been holding
this quiet vigil
for you.

It simply wants you
to see what it sees,
wants you to know
what it knows—
how this blessing
already blazes in you,
illuminating every corner
of your broken
and beautiful heart.

—Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow

The Cure for SorrowJUST RELEASED!

A blessing meets us in the place of our deepest loss. In that place, it gives us a glimpse of wholeness and claims that wholeness here and now. —from the Introduction

Jan’s much-anticipated new book enters with heartbreaking honesty into the rending that loss brings. It moves, too, into the unexpected shelters of solace and hope, inviting us to recognize the presence of love that, as she writes, is “sorrow’s most lasting cure.”

Order the Book

 

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Heart Coming Home,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. During Advent, subscribe to Jan Richardson Images and receive unlimited digital downloads for only $125 per year (regularly $165). Click Subscribe to sign up.

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Christmas Day: Where the Light Begins

December 25, 2015 by Jan Richardson

Where the Light BeginsImage: Where the Light Begins © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels for Christmas Day: John 1.1-14

The true light, which enlightens everyone,
was coming into the world.
—John 1.9

So I was having an Advent chat recently with my friend Fr. Rob Lord. The rector of a church that has been a place of solace for me in recent months, Fr. Rob is a soul of insight and grace. His office adjoins the church playground, and as we talked on that afternoon, an angel periodically bobbed up in the window, complete with a tinsel halo, cardboard wings, and, for a bit of flair, a Rudolph-red nose.

The angel appeared from time to time as Fr. Rob and I talked of such things as Advent and grief, the communion of saints, seasons and time and eternity. Our conversation turned to Saint John of the Cross, the medieval Spanish mystic known particularly for his stunning writings about the dark night of the soul.

God is radiantly illuminating us in ways we cannot see or feel or know, Fr. Rob said at one point. On that Advent afternoon, with the shimmering, cardboard-winged, Rudolph-nosed angel at play on the other side of the window, I tucked those words into my heart.

And now, writing this in the dark hours as Christmas Eve turns into Christmas Day, I pass Fr. Rob’s words along to you, in the company of this blessing. In these hours, in these days, though we cannot see or feel or know all the ways that God is radiantly illuminating us, may we open ourselves toward that light. May we open our eyes, our hands, our hearts to meet it. May we lean into the light that begins in the deepest dark, bearing itself into this world for us.

O my beloved friends. Merry Christmas!

Where the Light Begins
A Blessing for Christmas

Perhaps it does not begin.
Perhaps it is always.

Perhaps it takes
a lifetime
to open our eyes,
to learn to see
what has forever
shimmered in front of us—

the luminous line
of the map
in the dark

the vigil flame
in the house
of the heart

the love
so searing
we cannot keep
from singing,
from crying out
in testimony
and praise.

Perhaps this day
will be the mountain
over which
the dawn breaks.

Perhaps we
will turn our face
toward it,
toward what has been
always.

Perhaps
our eyes
will finally open
in ancient recognition,
willingly dazzled,
illuminated at last.

Perhaps this day
the light begins
in us.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace

P.S. This Luminous Darkness: Friends, I have been so moved by the responses I’ve received to the article I recently shared here about traveling with grief in this season. I want to let you know that the article (“This Luminous Darkness: Searching for Solace in Advent and Christmas”) is now available as a PDF for ease of downloading and printing for yourself or sharing with others. Given that Christmas is a season (leading up to Epiphany on January 6) and not just a single day, we still have a rich opportunity to linger with the stories of this season and the treasures they hold. To download or print the PDF, click the image or link below:

Magnificat
This Luminous Darkness:
Searching for Solace in Advent and Christmas


New from Jan Richardson

CIRCLE OF GRACE: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Circle of GraceWithin the struggle, joy, pain, and delight that attend our life, there is an invisible circle of grace that enfolds and encompasses us in every moment. Blessings help us to perceive this circle of grace, to find our place of belonging within it, and to receive the strength the circle holds for us. from the Introduction

Beginning in Advent and moving through the sacred seasons of the Christian year, Circle of Grace offers Jan’s distinctive and poetic blessings that illuminate the treasures each season offers to us. A beautiful gift this Advent and Christmas. Available in print and ebook.

Order the book

 

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Where the Light Begins,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Advent special! During this season, subscribe to Jan Richardson Images and receive unlimited digital downloads for only $125 per year (regularly $165). Click Subscribe to sign up.

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Christmas Eve: Light Has Shined

December 21, 2015 by Jan Richardson

Those Who Walked in DarknessImage: Those Who Walked in Darkness © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures for Christmas Eve: Isaiah 9.2-7

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
—Isaiah 9.2

Friends, as we approach this Christmas Eve, I want to share with you a reflection that I wrote for the first Christmas Eve after Gary died, along with a blessing from Circle of Grace. The reflection was part of the Illuminated Advent Retreat in 2013, which Gary and I were to lead together; he died just as the retreat was beginning. In that first Advent of astonishing loss, when I could hardly see the next step ahead of me, traveling with that retreat community was a tremendous gift and grace.

In this Christmas Eve reflection, I wrote about wanting to know the sense of arrival that Isaiah evokes in this passage. Two years along this grieving path, I still cannot say that I have that sense of arrival, but I do have a sense that I am entering into a new place. It is a place still marked by struggle and deep loss. But it is not without light, or astounding grace. For what shimmers along the way—for Gary’s life that continues to offer extraordinary light for the path, and for the light that you, my friends, bear on this road—I give great thanks.

For Christmas Eve

These words from Isaiah, which are often read on Christmas Eve, have long been among my favorite words of this season. This year they tug at me with particular insistence. There is such a sense of arrival in these words; a spirit of emerging, of entering into a new place after fierce struggle, long wandering, deep loss.

I want to be there, to know that sense of arrival. I want to know what it feels like to stand with those who have traveled through the deep darkness and have made it through, have emerged into the light. A great light, Isaiah calls it.

It is daunting to feel like that light is a long way off, that there are such large shadows across the path ahead of me. Yet there are glimpses and glimmers, hints and signs. The beautiful postcard that comes from Sarah today, assuring me, in large letters, You will be okay! The email from Janice, asking me, Do you need someone to weep with you? When you are ready to come for lunch, I’ll make you soup and tea and, yes, that cherry pie I promised you. The visit with Gary’s son tonight, and the solace of seeing Gary’s gifts at play in this remarkable young man.

Such moments remind me that even when our path is shadowed, Christ calls us in this season to look for what shimmers along the way. Though it may be some time before the path begins to look more brilliant to me, these moments of grace offer light enough: for this moment, this breath, this step. These luminous moments also invite me to remember that the season of Advent isn’t simply about waiting for the light to show up. More than this, Advent is about learning to see. Advent is a journey that asks us to open our eyes and look for the light that is already here, for the illumination that might already be in our midst in ways we have not been willing or ready to perceive.

This Christmas Eve, may we open our eyes to the luminous moments that come bearing the grace and love of Christ our Light. May we receive illumination enough for this step, this breath, this day.

How the Light Comes

I cannot tell you
how the light comes.

What I know
is that it is more ancient
than imagining.

That it travels
across an astounding expanse
to reach us.

That it loves
searching out
what is hidden,
what is lost,
what is forgotten
or in peril
or in pain.

That it has a fondness
for the body,
for finding its way
toward flesh,
for tracing the edges
of form,
for shining forth
through the eye,
the hand,
the heart.

I cannot tell you
how the light comes,
but that it does.
That it will.
That it works its way
into the deepest dark
that enfolds you,
though it may seem
long ages in coming
or arrive in a shape
you did not foresee.

And so
may we this day
turn ourselves toward it.
May we lift our faces
to let it find us.
May we bend our bodies
to follow the arc it makes.
May we open
and open more
and open still

to the blessed light
that comes.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace


New from Jan Richardson

CIRCLE OF GRACE: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Circle of GraceWithin the struggle, joy, pain, and delight that attend our life, there is an invisible circle of grace that enfolds and encompasses us in every moment. Blessings help us to perceive this circle of grace, to find our place of belonging within it, and to receive the strength the circle holds for us. from the Introduction

Beginning in Advent and moving through the sacred seasons of the Christian year, Circle of Grace offers Jan’s distinctive and poetic blessings that illuminate the treasures each season offers to us. A beautiful gift this Advent and Christmas. Available in print and ebook.

Order the book


A Christmas Eve Gift:
Gary’s gorgeous song “For To Us a Child Will Be Born,” inspired in part by Isaiah 9.2-7, beautifully captures the mystery of the night that draws us across the threshold into Christmas. To listen, simply click the Play button on the audio player below. (For my email subscribers: if the audio player doesn’t appear in your email, click adventdoor.com to visit the blog and see the audio player.) The song is from Gary’s CD Songmaker’s Christmas.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Those Who Walked in Darkness,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Advent special! During this season, subscribe to Jan Richardson Images and receive unlimited digital downloads for only $125 per year (regularly $165). Click Subscribe to sign up.

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

This Luminous Darkness: Searching for Solace in Advent and Christmas

December 17, 2015 by Jan Richardson

MagnificatImage: Magnificat © Jan Richardson

My husband died on the second day of Advent 2013, several weeks after experiencing massive complications during what we had anticipated would be routine surgery. In that season, my primary Advent practices involved such things as remembering to breathe, eat, and sleep as I began to navigate the awful and bewildering terrain of grief.

Two years later, I still sometimes have to remember to engage in those practices. But this year, as I navigated the second anniversary of Gary’s death and entered into Advent once again, I became aware of a keen desire to move through this season in a different way. Just what way, I wasn’t sure.

I searched for resources for Advent and mourning. In my searching, I was struck by how so many of those resources take a strategic approach, offering guidelines for how to manage grief during the holidays. It’s good to have some strategies for coping with the innumerable triggers that can so easily exacerbate sorrow during this season. At the same time, I knew that my grief was asking me to do something more than manage it.

If I have learned anything about grief in the past two years, it is that grief is a wild creature. Grief will resist every attempt to tame it, to control it, or to keep it tidy and well-behaved. Rather than managing it, grief asks instead that we tend it, listen to it, question it. One of the surest ways to calm it is to give it some space in which to speak—or to holler, or weep.

I have learned also that grief loves stories. Resistant as grief is to pat answers, logic, and linear thinking, it finds a natural home within the landscape of a story, where meaning appears not so much in facts or formulas as in metaphors, symbols, and the unpredictable pathways of narrative.

As I thought about what I need in this season, and how I want not just to abide this Advent but to move through it with intention and openness, I found myself naturally drawn to some of the greatest gifts this season gives us: its stories. In the sacred texts that accompany us in Advent and Christmas, we find an extraordinarily rich landscape that, for all its darkness, is luminous with story. This luminous landscape holds particular treasures for those of us traveling through this season in the company of grief.

I want to offer a sketch of the landscape I am discovering as I revisit these stories. I share this not as a comprehensive, detailed map but rather as a way of beginning to trace the outline of the terrain and some of its treasures, looking for what illumination they might provide for this shadowed Advent path.

How do these resonate for you? What light might these treasures offer for your own journey through this season?

• The boundaries of heaven and earth are not as fixed as we think. In the stories of this season, we see a wondrous interplay between the realms. Angels come with strange invitations (Luke 1:5-20, 26-38) and glorious announcements (Luke 2:8-14). Wise men watch the skies and follow a star (Matthew 2:1-12). Ordinary people open themselves to the purposes of God, becoming the means by which God works on this earth. God becomes incarnate in Christ, choosing to enter fully into our human life for the purpose of showing us how heaven is already in our midst. What we tend to experience as separate realms are, in fact, part of one realm in which God is everywhere at work.

In a time when the loss of a beloved can make the separation between heaven and earth seem especially sharp, how might these stories help us perceive and enter into the fluid relationship between earth and heaven?

• In the most difficult places on our path, spaces of sanctuary are waiting for us. Pregnant, unmarried, and alone, Mary is in a perilous state after the archangel Gabriel departs. Rather than attempting to tough it out on her own, Mary goes in search of someone who will help. She finds that help in the home of her cousin Elizabeth, who welcomes Mary and offers her safety, blessing, and sanctuary (Luke 1:39-45).

When we feel most alone, who could help? Where might we find a space of sanctuary—or offer it to someone on their own difficult path?

• When the world as we know it has ended, sing. Or paint. Or dance, or write, or build something. After Elizabeth welcomes and blesses her, Mary responds with a song that the Christian tradition has come to know as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). With this song, Mary articulates an astonishing vision of a God who redeems and restores the world, not in a far-off future but already. That’s how powerful her vision is.

Grief tends to gut the imagination. This can make it difficult to discern what vision God has for us, or to dream what our life might look like more than ten minutes at a time. Intentional creativity, whatever its form, has the power to restore and renew our imagination. It helps us perceive the possibilities that are at hand, and, like Mary, to envision and enter into the wholeness that God has somehow already brought about.

When our world shatters, what creative practice(s) will enable us to pay attention to the fragments and perceive how God might want to put them together in a new pattern?

• To find the next step, sometimes we need to fall asleep. The journey of grief invites an enormous amount of intention. It asks that we resist the impulse to go numb or to always give in to the exhaustion that so often accompanies mourning. Sometimes, however, the best thing we can do is fall asleep. I mean this both literally and figuratively. In the story of Joseph, who had to deal with his own world coming to an end, we find marvelous images of how God’s desires became known to Joseph through his dreaming (Matthew 1:20-21; 2:13, 19-20, 22). When God wants to convey something to us, God frequently chooses something other than the straightforward way. Dream, story, metaphor, intuition, synchronicity, poetry, art: God seems to love showing up in our peripheral vision rather than head-on, finding the language or medium by which we will most clearly sense what God is asking of us.

On the path of grief, which often resists our attempts at rational thought and conscious will, what ways of knowing will we open ourselves to? In this season, where will we look and listen in order to discern God’s desires for us?

• Remembering is a practice and an art. Advent has a way of triggering memories that, when we are in grief, can be particularly painful. There is little to shield us against the sheer quantity of seasonal sights and sounds that remind us of holidays past, when our loved one was with us. Just recently I found myself in the midst of an unmerry meltdown at the end of a day that included a trip to a local bookstore for a few presents. Gary and I had had our first date in that bookstore, and, over the years, had spent many happy hours in its café, our heads bent together over books, cups of tea and coffee in hand. Visiting the bookstore again, now decked out in its holiday finery and with Christmas music streaming through its speakers, provided one of the final triggers that prompted a spectacular Advent overload.

In the face of such memory triggers, intentional remembering can, paradoxically, become one of our most powerful practices. Mary knew about the art of remembering. The Gospel of Luke tells us that after everything—after her pregnancy, after Jesus’ birth, after the proclamation of the angels and the visit of the shepherds—Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19). She understood that the heart is a treasure house of memory. The heart is a space where our memories can be gathered together and made whole in the present.

In this season, how will I choose to practice the art of intentional remembering? Here and now, as I consciously gather and treasure the memories of my beloved, what new gift and blessing might they hold for me?

• Hope opens us to the future but releases us into the present. Advent draws our eyes toward the horizon as we watch and wait for the Christ who comes to us. In this season, we sing with Zechariah, By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us (Luke 1:78). When we are in grief, looking toward the horizon with hope and anticipation is no small feat. Instead of luring us away from the present, however, Advent invites us more deeply into it, where the kingdom of God is at work even now. This is the nature of the hope that Advent cultivates in us. Rich with memory and infused with expectation, hope calls and enables us to work here and now, in company with the Christ who is already about the work of heaven in our midst. It is perhaps no mere mistake that in other ancient versions of Luke 1, Zechariah speaks not in the future tense but in the present perfect: the dawn from on high has broken upon us, he sings.

What am I hoping for? How does this hope inspire me to act in this moment?

• God has a fondness for what is fragile. This means us. Advent tells us that God came to us—and comes to us still—with complete vulnerability. Christ is to be found among what is fragile—including us, ourselves, when pain and loss have left us feeling less than whole. In coming to us as a child, Christ chooses to take on our human vulnerability. We see this not only in his birth but also, with awful clarity, at the other end of his life, when on the cross he shows us the lengths he is willing to go to in order to enter into our experience.

In my brokenness, can I see my vulnerability as a place where God wants to know me?

• Darkness is where incarnation begins. The gorgeous texts of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany shimmer with the light that God brings into our midst, as in the prologue to John’s Gospel: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5). Yet if we lean too quickly toward the light, we miss seeing one of the greatest gifts this season has to offer us: that the deepest darkness is the place where God comes to us. In the womb, in the night, in the dreaming; when we are lost, when our world has come undone, when we cannot see the next step on the path; in all the darkness that attends our life, whether hopeful darkness or horrendous, God meets us. God’s first priority is not to do away with the dark but to be present to us in it. I will give you the treasures of darkness, God says in Isaiah 45:3, and riches hidden in secret places. For the Christ who was born two millennia ago, for the Christ who seeks to be born in us this day, the darkness is where incarnation begins.

Can we imagine the darkness as a place where God meets us—and not only meets us, but asks to take form in this world through us?

Comfort, O comfort my people, we hear God cry out in an Advent text from Isaiah (40:1). If, in this life, I cannot do away with grief, then I pray that I will at least enter into it with a heart open to this comfort, this solace that is one of the greatest treasures God offers us in the landscape of this season. This comfort is no mere pablum, no saccharine wish. And though it is deeply personal, it is not merely that; solace does not leave us to our own solitude. True comfort opens our broken heart toward the broken heart of the world and, in that opening, illuminates a doorway, a threshold, a connection. It reveals to us a place where, in the company of heaven and earth, we can begin anew, bearing forth the solace we have found.

An update, posted on Christmas Day: Friends, I have been so moved by the responses I’ve received to “The Luminous Darkness.” I want to let you know that it’s now available as a PDF for ease of downloading and printing for yourself or sharing with others. Given that Christmas is a season (leading up to Epiphany on January 6) and not just a single day, we still have a rich opportunity to linger with the stories of this season and the treasures they hold. To download or print the PDF, click the image or link below:

Magnificat
This Luminous Darkness:
Searching for Solace in Advent and Christmas


New from Jan Richardson

CIRCLE OF GRACE: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Circle of GraceWithin the struggle, joy, pain, and delight that attend our life, there is an invisible circle of grace that enfolds and encompasses us in every moment. Blessings help us to perceive this circle of grace, to find our place of belonging within it, and to receive the strength the circle holds for us. from the Introduction

Beginning in Advent and moving through the sacred seasons of the Christian year, Circle of Grace offers Jan’s distinctive and poetic blessings that illuminate the treasures each season offers to us. A beautiful gift this Advent and Christmas. Available in print and ebook.

ORDER THE BOOK

 

BLESSING FOR THE LONGEST NIGHT: A few years ago, I created a blessing for the Winter Solstice that has found its way into many Longest Night/Blue Christmas services. To visit this blessing, click this image or the title below:

Longest Night
Winter Solstice: Blessing for the Longest Night

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Magnificat,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com.

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Advent 4: A Blessing Called Sanctuary

December 14, 2015 by Jan Richardson

The Sanctuary Between UsImage: The Sanctuary Between Us © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 4, Year C: Luke 1:39-45, (46-55)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste
to a Judean town in the hill country,

where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.

—Luke 1.39-40

The archangel Gabriel has extended his astounding invitation. Mary has given her astonishing yes. Now she is alone—suddenly, entirely, dangerously alone—save for the unlikely child she now carries.

She flees: toward her kinswoman, toward refuge, toward sanctuary.

In the home of Elizabeth, in the company of her cousin who is herself pregnant in most unusual circumstances, Mary finds what she most needs. Elizabeth gathers and enfolds her. Welcomes her. Blesses her.

In response to Elizabeth’s blessing, Mary sings. And how she sings! She sings of a God who brings down the powerful, who lifts up the lowly, who fills the hungry with good things. Strangely, wonderfully, Mary sings of a God who not only will do these things, but who has done these things. She sings as if God has already accomplished the redemption and restoration of the world.

O my friends, this is what a blessing has the power to do. The blessing that Elizabeth speaks and enacts through her words, her welcome, her gift of sanctuary: such a blessing has the power to help us, like Mary, speak the word we most need to offer. Such a blessing gives us a glimpse of the redemption that God, in God’s strange sense of time, has somehow already accomplished. Such a blessing stirs up in us the strength to participate with God in bringing about this redemption in this time, in this world.

Where will we go, like Mary, to find and receive such a blessing?

How will we open our heart, like Elizabeth, to offer it?

A Blessing Called Sanctuary

You hardly knew
how hungry you were
to be gathered in,
to receive the welcome
that invited you to enter
entirely—
nothing of you
found foreign or strange,
nothing of your life
that you were asked
to leave behind
or to carry in silence
or in shame.

Tentative steps
became settling in,
leaning into the blessing
that enfolded you,
taking your place
in the circle
that stunned you
with its unimagined grace.

You began to breathe again,
to move without fear,
to speak with abandon
the words you carried
in your bones,
that echoed in your being.

You learned to sing.

But the deal with this blessing
is that it will not leave you alone,
will not let you linger
in safety,
in stasis.

The time will come
when this blessing
will ask you to leave,
not because it has tired of you
but because it desires for you
to become the sanctuary
that you have found—
to speak your word
into the world,
to tell what you have heard
with your own ears,
seen with your own eyes,
known in your own heart:

that you are beloved,
precious child of God,
beautiful to behold,*
and you are welcome
and more than welcome
here.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace

*Thanks to the Rev. Janet Wolf and the congregation of Hobson United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, for the story in which these words—“beloved, precious child of God, and beautiful to behold”—were offered to help transform the life of a member of their community. You can read the story here.

JUST RELEASED!
CIRCLE OF GRACE: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Circle of GraceWithin the struggle, joy, pain, and delight that attend our life, there is an invisible circle of grace that enfolds and encompasses us in every moment. Blessings help us to perceive this circle of grace, to find our place of belonging within it, and to receive the strength the circle holds for us. from the Introduction

Beginning in Advent and moving through the sacred seasons of the Christian year, Circle of Grace offers Jan’s distinctive and poetic blessings that illuminate the treasures each season offers to us. A beautiful gift this Advent and Christmas. Available in print and ebook.

ORDER THE BOOK

Advent Bonus! One of Gary’s wondrous songs for Advent was inspired by the story of Mary and Elizabeth. It’s called “Celebrate the Coming of the Lord,” and I would love to share it with you. To listen, simply click the Play button on the audio player below. (For my email subscribers: if the audio player doesn’t appear in your email, click adventdoor.com to visit the blog and see the audio player.) The song is from Gary’s CD Songmaker’s Christmas.

For previous reflections on the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, click the image or title below.

For Joy
Advent 4: For Joy

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “The Sanctuary Between Us,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Advent special! During this season, subscribe to Jan Richardson Images and receive unlimited digital downloads for only $125 per year (regularly $165). Click Subscribe to sign up.

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.