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 Painted Prayerbook 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.

Advent 3: Testify to the Light

December 12, 2014 by Jan Richardson

Testify to the LightImage: Testify to the Light  © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 3, Year B: John 1.6-8, 19-28

He came as a witness to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
– John 1.7

In Belfast there is a woman who lights candles for Gary and me. She has a gift for finding thin places: an eleventh-century stone sanctuary; a whitewashed church in the mountains of Wales; a chapel crypt on the Yorkshire moors that holds the bones of Saint Cedd. In those places, on an altar or in the chink of a wall, Jenny lights a candle, and she prays—not merely in memory of what was, but in hope and in blessing for love that endures and life that persists on both sides of the veil.

Here on my brokenhearted side of the veil, the light comes as solace and unexpected grace. In this dark time, when there is no one who can walk this road for me or lessen what has been lost with Gary’s death, the light comes as a vivid reminder that we have, at the least, the power to help illuminate the path for each other.

It matters that we hold the light for one another. It matters that we bear witness to the Light that holds us all, that we testify to this Light that shines its infinite love and mercy on us across oceans, across borders, across time.

Who holds the light for you? In this season, who might need you to hold the light for them in acts of love and grace?

Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light

Blessed are you
who bear the light
in unbearable times,
who testify
to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
in shadow
and grief.

Blessed are you
in whom
the light lives,
in whom
the brightness blazes—
your heart
a chapel,
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith
in stubborn hope
in love that illumines
every broken thing
it finds.

– Jan Richardson

For previous reflections on this passage, visit Where I’m From and Advent 3: The Prayer Book of John the Baptist.

An Advent Journey…

ILLUMINATED 2014 — Still open!
Are you hungry for an experience that invites you into Advent without stressing your schedule? There’s still time to join us for this online journey! The retreat has begun, but we can easily catch you up. Offering a space of elegant simplicity as you travel toward Christmas, the Illuminated retreat fits easily into the rhythm of your days, anywhere you are. For info and registration, visit ILLUMINATED 2014.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Testify to the Light,” 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 Painted Prayerbook 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.

Advent 1: Blessing When the World Is Ending

November 23, 2014 by Jan Richardson

End and BeginningImage: End and Beginning  © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 1, Year B: Mark 13.24-37

The sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
- Mark 13.24

It used to come as something of a shock to me: that a season commonly perceived to be about joy and peace always begins with the end of the world. Every year, on the first Sunday of Advent, the lectionary gives us a little apocalypse. That’s what it’s actually called: “Little Apocalypse” is the name often given to Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives, where he describes to his listeners the events that will take place as he returns.

This time around, as Advent approaches, Jesus’ apocalyptic talk comes not so much as a shock as it does something that feels familiar to me. December 2 will, unbelievably, mark a year since Gary’s unexpected death—a year since our world came to an end, a year since the onset of my own little apocalypse.

The ending of one’s personal world is not the same, I know, as The End of the World that Jesus describes here. Yet the first Sunday of Advent invites us to recognize that these endings are connected; that the Christ who will return at the end of time somehow inhabits each ending we experience in this life. Every year, Advent calls us to practice the apocalypse: to look for the presence of Christ who enters into our every loss, who comes to us in the midst of devastation, who gathers us up when our world has shattered, and who offers the healing that is a foretaste of the wholeness he is working to bring about not only at the end of time but also in this time, in this place.

As Advent begins, is there something in your life that is ending? How might you look for the presence of Christ who comes to you in that place?

Blessing When the World is Ending

Look, the world
is always ending
somewhere.

Somewhere
the sun has come
crashing down.

Somewhere
it has gone
completely dark.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the gun
the knife
the fist.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the slammed door
the shattered hope.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the utter quiet
that follows the news
from the phone
the television
the hospital room.

Somewhere
it has ended
with a tenderness
that will break
your heart.

But, listen,
this blessing means
to be anything
but morose.
It has not come
to cause despair.

It is simply here
because there is nothing
a blessing
is better suited for
than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world
is falling apart.

This blessing
will not fix you
will not mend you
will not give you
false comfort;
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.

It will simply
sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light
will come,
gathering itself
about you
as the world begins
again.

– Jan Richardson

For previous reflections on this and related passages, visit Advent 1: Practicing the Apocalypse, Advent 1: In Which We Stay Awake, and Advent 1: Through the Door.

An Advent Journey…

ILLUMINATED 2014 — Come join us!
Are you hungry for an experience that invites you into Advent without stressing your schedule? This online retreat is not about adding one more thing to your holidays. It is about helping you find spaces for reflection that draw you deep into this season that shimmers with mystery and possibility. Offering a space of elegant simplicity as you journey toward Christmas, the Illuminated retreat fits easily into the rhythm of your days, anywhere you are. Begins November 30. For info and registration, visit ILLUMINATED 2014. Individual, group, & congregational rates available.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “End and Beginning,” 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 Painted Prayerbook 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.

Illuminated Advent 2014

November 21, 2014 by Jan Richardson

Illuminated Advent 2014

“In this strange season when we are suspended
between realization and expectation,
may we be found honest about the darkness,
more perceptive of the light.”
- Dr. Jack Boozer

More than ever, I am feeling the truth and the invitation of these words from Dr. Jack Boozer, who was a professor at Emory University in Atlanta. The season of Advent asks us to reckon with the darkness and seek the Christ who shows up even—and sometimes especially—in the darkest times. At the same time, the season invites us to acknowledge our ancient longing for light and to open ourselves anew to how the light of Christ comes to us and through us.

As Advent approaches, I am eager to journey through both the darkness and the light with those who will be participating in the new online retreat that I’m offering for Advent. This is a wondrous way to travel with others who are seeking to be honest about the darkness and more perceptive of the light. I would love for you to join us!

If you want a simple way to enter into Advent with mindfulness and grace, this retreat is for you. Some details are below, along with a link to our main info and registration page for the retreat.

ILLUMINATED 2014: An Online Journey into the Heart of Christmas
November 30-December 27
All new for 2014!

Are you hungry for an experience that invites you into Advent without stressing your schedule? This online retreat is not about adding one more thing to your holidays. It is about helping you find spaces for reflection that draw you deep into this season that shimmers with mystery and possibility. Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, this online retreat provides a space of elegant simplicity and a distinctive opportunity to travel through Advent and Christmas.

This is an Advent retreat for people who don’t have time for an Advent retreat (and for those who do!). You can easily enter into it in the way that works best for you, from anywhere you are. You don’t have to show up at a particular time or place, and you’re welcome to engage the retreat as much or as little as you wish. This is for you: a space to breathe deeply and to experience renewal that will make a difference in how you move through the season.

Individual, group, and congregational rates are available. You can also give the retreat as a gift! For retreat details, FAQs, and registration, visit Illuminated Advent Retreat.

Blessings to you as Advent approaches!

An Altered Advent

December 11, 2013 by Jan Richardson

Best Day Ever

My dear friends. For those who don’t already know, I need to tell you that my beloved husband, Garrison Doles, slipped peacefully from this world on December 2, enfolded in the love and presence of our family and the encompassing of the God who entrusted him to us. I don’t need to tell you that I am heartbroken beyond imagining to have lost not only my husband but my amazing partner and companion in ministry. I am also tremendously grateful for all the prayers that encompassed us as we kept vigil with Gary and that are continuing to sustain us in these days.

Over at The Painted Prayerbook, I recently posted a reflection that includes a brief remembrance and blessing that I wrote for the celebration of Gary’s life, which we held last Friday afternoon. You can find it here:

Beloved: A Blessing for Garrison Doles

Last year, Gary released a gorgeous CD of his original Christmas songs. It’s titled Songmaker’s Christmas and is such a beautiful companion for this season. You can download songs or the entire CD by clicking this image or title below:


Songmaker's Christmas

Songmaker’s Christmas

You can imagine this is not the Advent season we had planned. With keeping vigil with Gary in the hospital, navigating these days following his death, and also journeying through the online Illuminated Advent Retreat that Gary and I had planned to offer together, I’m not able to be present here at The Advent Door in the way I had hoped. But we’ve traveled through two complete cycles of the lectionary here, so you can find lots of already existing work! I have a number of reflections and images that I’ve created previously for the scripture readings that we’re visiting during this season. For the third Sunday of of Advent, you can find some of them by clicking the images or titles below.

I send you much gratitude and many blessings. May you know the presence of Christ our Light throughout these days.


When the Prison Bars Bled Light

Advent 3: When the Prison Bars Bled Light


The News in Prison

Door 16: The News in Prison


Another Name for Patience

Door 15: Another Name for Patience


Magnificat

Door 11: In Which We Get to Sing


To Zion with Singing

Door 10: Hitting the Highway

Advent and the Unexpected Vigil

November 24, 2013 by Jan Richardson


Image: Heartbeat Liturgy © Jan L. Richardson

(Cross-posted from The Painted Prayerbook)

Friends, you may have already heard this news through another place or person that connects us, but in case you haven’t, I want to share an update with you and ask for your prayers. My amazing husband, Garrison Doles, is in the midst of a medical crisis that has turned our lives inside out. Last week, Gary went into the hospital to address a brain aneurysm that had been discovered during the summer (in a fluky fashion, in the process of checking out something else that proved not to be a problem). We had hoped he would be able to have a less invasive procedure called coiling, but the aneurysm proved too complex, and he was taken into surgery. During an eleven-hour surgery, Gary had a stroke, and has had two additional surgeries to address brain swelling. He has been in a medically induced coma and will be emerging from that over the course of the coming days.

We don’t yet know the extent of the damage from the stroke. Based on what Gary’s remarkable neurosurgeon is telling us, there is cause for great concern and great hope. I would be tremendously thankful for your prayers and good thoughts for Gary, his wondrous medical team, and our families.

Some kind folks have asked about the online Advent retreat that Gary and I were planning. I’ve decided to still offer it, with the understanding that it will look rather different than we originally planned. I find myself reluctant to give up the chance to walk through the coming season in the company of kindred spirits.

If you’re interested in entering Advent with your eyes wide open—looking honestly and anew at seemingly familiar Advent themes such as mystery, waiting, hope, keeping vigil, and longing for light in the deepest darkness—and if you’re game for a bit of adventure and uncertainty about what it will all look like, then this is the place for you. I’d love to travel in your company. If you’re one of the folks who has already signed up, thank you and bless you!

I’d be grateful if you would let other folks know about the retreat by sharing a link to this post or to the retreat overview page (Illuminated Advent Retreat) via Facebook or anywhere else you’re connected. This would be such a wonderful gesture of support for Gary and me in this time. Most of all, I would be so tremendously thankful for your prayers in these days of keeping vigil and beginning to navigate a road that we never imagined traveling.

I send you much gratitude and many blessings as Advent approaches.



Illuminated Advent Retreat

Celebrating Epiphany and Women’s Christmas

January 4, 2013 by Jan Richardson


Image: By Another Road © Jan L. Richardson

As always, the wonderful but intense days of Advent make me grateful that Christmas lasts for twelve days instead of just one. Although the world around us pretty well shuts Christmas down at midnight on December 25, the Christmas season, which extends to Epiphany on January 6, provides a great opportunity to pause and take a deep breath before we fling ourselves into the year ahead. To celebrate Epiphany, I have a new blessing for you over at The Painted Prayerbook; you can find it here:

Epiphany: Blessing of the Magi

And do you know that there’s a wonderful tradition, rooted in Ireland, of celebrating Epiphany as Women’s Christmas? You can learn more by visiting my Sanctuary of Women blog, where my latest post includes a link to a special retreat that I’ve designed for you to use for Women’s Christmas—or whenever you’re in need of a break! You can download the retreat as a PDF at no cost. I’m happy for you to share the retreat with friends—a great way to celebrate the day. Click the image or title below to visit the Women’s Christmas post and download the retreat.

Women’s Christmas: The Map You Make Yourself

I’m grateful for your company here at The Advent Door and look forward to returning when Advent approaches again. In the meantime, I’d love for you to join me over at The Painted Prayerbook, my blogging home the rest of the year. Happy New Year, Merry Epiphany, Blessed Women’s Christmas to you!

Christmas Day: Shines in the Darkness

December 25, 2012 by Jan Richardson


Image: Shines in the Darkness © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Christmas Day, Years ABC: John 1.1-14

Throughout this season, Gary and I have been leading an online Advent retreat and have loved traveling through these days in the company of folks from around the world. This is the reflection we are sharing with them for Christmas Day.

When I think of my artistic ancestors—the creative people whose lives and work have inspired and informed my own—I trace my lineage back to the Middle Ages. My artful family tree includes the medieval monks and nuns who labored at their desks with paint and ink, working by hand to create sacred books: gospel-books, prayer books, Psalters. I think of scribes who traced each letter upon the vellum, artists who saturated pages with their pigments, so often adding the shimmering gold that would give rise to the name for such manuscripts: illuminated.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Many illuminated manuscripts required months or years to create, involving what might strike us as a staggering amount of time and expense. We may wonder at why these books warranted such extravagance, when they could have been fashioned more simply. Yet for the artist and scribe, creating an illuminated manuscript often became a lavish act of devotion, a fitting response to the God who created us and came among us with such extravagant love.

What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.

I am continually enchanted and inspired by the artists and scribes who poured themselves out in creating these luminous books that became a form of prayer, of proclamation, of sacrament. These artful ancestors understood how a book could become what the Celtic tradition has called a thin place—a space where heaven and earth meet, and we recognize more clearly the presence of the God who is always present to us.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

Although my work looks little like that of the medieval artists and scribes, their devotion inspires and, I pray, infuses the pages I create in paper and in cyberspace. In their illuminated intertwining of Word and image and light and prayer, I find an invitation and a challenge for my own creative work: that it may be a place of such intertwining, that it may be a space where heaven and earth meet, that it may be a way the Word  takes flesh in me and shines through me.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory . . .
full of grace and truth.

As we cross into Christmas Day, where do you see the Word taking flesh in this world? How does the Word take flesh in you, become light shining through you? Who are your sources of inspiration as you open yourself to this? Are you listening for where and how Christ might be seeking to take form in you, to bring life to you, to illuminate you?

This day, may Christ the Word speak anew in your life, and may Christ our Light illumine your way. Merry Christmas!

P.S. For a previous reflection for Christmas Day (including the Christmas blessing “How the Light Comes”), click the image or title below:

And the Darkness Did Not Overcome It

Christmas Day: How the Light Comes

[To use the image “Shines in the Darkness,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]

Advent 4: For Joy

December 20, 2012 by Jan Richardson


Image: For Joy © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 4, Year C: Luke 1.39-45

“For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting,
the child in my womb leaped for joy.”

—Luke 1.44

For Joy

You can prepare
but still
it will come to you
by surprise

crossing through your doorway
calling your name in greeting
turning like a child
who quickens suddenly
within you

it will astonish you
how wide your heart
will open
in welcome

for the joy
that finds you
so ready
and still so
unprepared.

P.S. For a previous reflection on this passage, click the image or title below:

Advent 4: The Sanctuary They Make in Meeting

Last year I created a blessing for the Winter Solstice that has found its way into lots of Longest Night/Blue Christmas services. To visit this blessing, click this image or title:

Winter Solstice: Blessing for the Longest Night

[To use the image “For Joy,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]

Advent 3: With the Spirit and Fire

December 16, 2012 by Jan Richardson


Image: With the Spirit and Fire © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 3, Year C: Luke 3.7-18

Nearly all my creative energy this week has gone toward the online retreat that Gary and I are leading during this Advent season. We’re having a wondrous time with the folks who are participating in the retreat from around the world. Although I wasn’t able to write a blog reflection this week, I do have a new image, and I hope, even so late in the week, it will offer a blessing for your Advent path.

I also have a previous reflection on this week’s gospel reading; click the image or title below.

Blessings to you in these Advent days, and may the Spirit enliven you and illumine your way.

Advent 3: Terrors and Wonders

[To use the image “With the Spirit and Fire,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]