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.

Advent 3: A Way Lit by Rejoicing

December 8, 2015 by Jan Richardson

As on a Day of FestivalImage: As on a Day of Festival © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, Advent 3, Year C:
Zephaniah 3.14-20

He will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
—Zephaniah 3.17-18

Last Saturday, in the gorgeous concert hall at the Timucua Arts White House in Orlando, we had a party. Organized by my wondrous friend and editor Christianne Squires, the party was held ostensibly to celebrate the publication of my new book, Circle of Grace. Taking place, however, just three days after the second anniversary of Gary’s death, I can’t help but think, as I look back on it now, that some benevolent forces were conspiring to stir up a celebration in a time when I most needed it.

I gave a reading during the party, which was my first public talk since Gary’s death. During the reading, I found myself speaking of one of the mysteries of grief: how, if we let it, grief can widen our hearts beyond anything we ever imagined. I talked about how I had recently commented to a friend that I never knew the human heart could hold so many things at one time. And not just at one time, but in one place. It is wondrously strange, how in the deepest, sharpest grief, joy can come and inhabit the very same space. One does not negate the other. But in the mysterious physics of mourning, they abide together. Joy allows sorrow to have its say, but it does not let despair have the final word.

Advent is a season for remembering that the joy that makes its way toward us does not depend on mere happiness. Joy is made of stronger stuff than this. Joy is what comes when, in days that tempt us toward despair, we choose to celebrate—not in denial of the causes of despair, but in defiance. In hope. In delight. In gladness for the One who comes to sing for us and with us, ever renewing us in his love.

As on a Day of Festival

Call it
the waters of salvation
or the garlands of gladness.

Call it
the grave-clothes
falling away
or call it the loosing
of the chains.

Call it
what binds us together:
fierce but
fragile but
fierce.

Call it
he will rejoice over you
with gladness;
call it
he will renew you
in his love;
call it
he will exult over you
with loud singing
as on a day
of festival.

Call it
the thin, thin place
where the veil
gives way.

Or call it this:
the path we make
when we go deep
and deeper still
into the dark
and look behind to see
the way has been lit
by our rejoicing.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace

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

 

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

The Final Fire Is Love
Advent 3: Terrors and Wonders

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “As on a Day of Festival,” 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.

Advent 2: A Blessing for Preparing

November 29, 2015 by Jan Richardson

A Road Runs Through ItImage: A Road Runs Through It © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 2, Year C: Luke 3.1-6

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
—Luke 3.3-4

This is the first year in a while that I haven’t been preparing to lead an online retreat for Advent. (More about that decision, and finding “the next right thing,” here.) So here I am, at the beginning of Advent, suddenly wondering, What am I preparing for?

It’s not that there isn’t plenty to do; in fact, I’m working to resist feeling overwhelmed by all that’s asking for my attention. And the decision not to offer an Advent retreat this year was, in part, about making room for some new creative work that has been knocking at the door of my soul. I can’t help but wonder, though, how it will be to enter into the space where that creative work will take place—the space of the studio, the space of my heart that, in these past two years since Gary’s death, has been broken open and enlarged beyond imagining, widened with both grief and wonder.

I am not feeling terribly prepared for this season. And that, perhaps, is where the heart of the invitation lies for me this Advent. We sometimes fall so easily into thinking that preparing is something we do. To be sure, preparing is part of Advent’s invitation to us, as the season calls us to echo and embody the words of Luke and Isaiah, and “prepare the way of the Lord.”

But this Advent, as I look back on the path since Gary’s death (two years ago this December 2), I feel drawn to ask, How have I already been prepared? What way has been made within me, without my having been aware of it at the time? On this road that runs through the hollow of my heart, how is Christ walking toward me, even now?

And you? How might it be to look back on the past week, the past month, the past year and ask what way has already been made in you? What road runs through your heart even now, ready for Christ to enter?

Prepare
A Blessing for Advent

Strange how one word
will so hollow you out.
But this word
has been in the wilderness
for months.
Years.

This word is what remained
after everything else
was worn away
by sand and stone.
It is what withstood
the glaring of sun by day,
the weeping loneliness of
the moon at night.

Now it comes to you
racing out of the wild,
eyes blazing
and waving its arms,
its voice ragged with desert
but piercing and loud
as it speaks itself
again and again:

Prepare, prepare.

It may feel like
the word is leveling you,
emptying you
as it asks you
to give up
what you have known.

It is impolite
and hardly tame,
but when it falls
upon your lips
you will wonder
at the sweetness,

like honey
that finds its way
into the hunger
you had not known
was there.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace

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

Book Celebration: If you’re in the Orlando vicinity on Saturday, December 5, from 2-4 PM, we’d love for you to join us for a gathering to celebrate the publication of Circle of Grace! It will be held at the fantastic White House (in their beautiful vertical concert hall) near downtown Orlando. You can find details in my latest newsletter here.

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

Preparing the Way
Advent 2: The Mystery of Approach

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “A Road Runs Through It,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) 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.

Advent 1: A Blessing for Traveling in the Dark

November 25, 2015 by Jan Richardson

Grace in the DarkImage: Grace in the Dark © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Psalms, Advent 1, Year C: Psalm 25.1-10

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.
—Psalm 25.4

It was the second day of Advent when my husband Gary died, almost two years ago now. In the time that has unfolded since then, never have I had such a keen sense of the ways that light and dark dwell together, and how grace imbues the places that are most laden with shadows and unfathomable mystery. The season of Advent impresses this upon us with such intention, weaving its exquisite tapestry of stories and images that tell us of how God makes a way toward us even—and especially—when we cannot find the way ourselves.

Here on the threshold of Advent, what does it mean for us to lean into this season once again, to give ourselves to these weeks that show us with such specificity and care that there is no place where God does not desire to meet us? How will we move through these days in a way that allows us to receive the gift that comes looking for us, that asks only that we open our hands, our eyes, our heart to the Love that knows our name?

Here at The Advent Door this year, I will be offering blessings from my just-released book, Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. As we enter into this season of mystery, it seems fitting to open with an Advent blessing that asks for protection and encompassing in the dark. May you know yourself enfolded by the grace that dwells in these Advent days. I am grateful to be traveling into this season with you.

A Blessing for Traveling in the Dark

Go slow
if you can.
Slower.
More slowly still.
Friendly dark
or fearsome,
this is no place
to break your neck
by rushing,
by running,
by crashing into
what you cannot see.

Then again,
it is true:
different darks
have different tasks,
and if you
have arrived here unawares,
if you have come
in peril
or in pain,
this might be no place
you should dawdle.

I do not know
what these shadows
ask of you,
what they might hold
that means you good
or ill.
It is not for me
to reckon
whether you should linger
or you should leave.

But this is what
I can ask for you:

That in the darkness
there be a blessing.
That in the shadows
there be a welcome.
That in the night
you be encompassed
by the Love that knows
your name.

—Jan Richardson

Circle of Grace

Within 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

 

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

Drawing Near
Advent 1: Drawing Near

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Grace in the Dark,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!

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: Gabriel and Mary

December 19, 2014 by Jan Richardson

Gabriel and MaryImage: Gabriel and Mary © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 4, Year B: Luke 1.26-38

When Mary says let it be to the archangel, it is an act of radical surrender. She offers her yes not with the meek passivity that history has so often ascribed to her; this kind of surrender is born not of weakness but of a daring strength within her and a stunning grace that shows up to sustain her. Mary’s surrender is deliberate, the choice of a woman ready to give herself to the sacred with such abandon that she agrees, with intention, to give up every last plan she had for her life.

Mary’s audacious yes propels her onto a dark way. She sets out on a path almost completely devoid of signposts or trails left by others; she chooses a road utterly unlike any she had ever imagined for herself. What must it have been like to walk a way she could hardly perceive, while carrying within herself—in her heart and womb and bones—a light unlike any the world had ever seen?

What must it have been like for the archangel who witnessed Mary’s yes?

Gabriel’s Annunciation

For a moment
I hesitated
on the threshold.
For the space
of a breath
I paused,
unwilling to disturb
her last ordinary moment,
knowing that the next step
would cleave her life:
that this day
would slice her story
in two,
dividing all the days before
from all the ones
to come.

The artists would later
depict the scene:
Mary dazzled
by the archangel,
her head bowed
in humble assent,
awed by the messenger
who condescended
to leave paradise
to bestow such an honor
upon a woman, and mortal.

Yet I tell you
it was I who was dazzled,
I who found myself agape
when I came upon her—
reading, at the loom, in the kitchen,
I cannot now recall;
only that the woman before me—
blessed and full of grace
long before I called her so—
shimmered with how completely
she inhabited herself,
inhabited the space around her,
inhabited the moment
that hung between us.

I wanted to save her
from what I had been sent
to say.

Yet when the time came,
when I had stammered
the invitation
(history would not record
the sweat on my brow,
the pounding of my heart;
would not note
that I said
Do not be afraid
to myself as much as
to her)
it was she
who saved me—
her first deliverance—
her Let it be
not just declaration
to the Divine
but a word of solace,
of soothing,
of benediction

for the angel
in the doorway
who would hesitate
one last time—
just for the space
of a breath
torn from his chest—
before wrenching himself away
from her radiant consent,
her beautiful and
awful yes.

– Jan Richardson

Advent bonus: A couple of years ago, Gary wrote “Gabriel and Mary,” a wondrous song inspired by this story. I’d 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 this passage, visit these posts:

Advent 4: An Awful and Wondrous Yes
Home for the Holidays
Getting the Message

For my blessing for the Winter Solstice, click the image or title below:

Longest Night
Winter Solstice: Blessing for the Longest Night

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Gabriel and Mary,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. (Be sure to check out our Advent special on annual subscriptions at the images site! $125, regularly $165.)

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.