Advent 3: In Sorrow and Celebration

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


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6 Responses to “Advent 3: In Sorrow and Celebration”

  1. Lynda Says:

    Jan, thank you for sending the email alerting us to your Advent blog. These reflections are so inspiring and meaningful – all of us have experienced sorrow at some point in our lives and can relate to your wonderful expression of our own experience. Thank you for letting the Lord speak through you for the healing of so many. Blessings. Lynda

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Lynda, thank you! I am so grateful for your words, which always come as such a gift to me. Thank you for your thoughtfulness. I’m sending an armload of blessings your way as Christmas draws near.

  2. Bob Oberg Says:

    Yes, Jan, thank you indeed for alerting us to your Advent blog. I also had only been following The Painted Prayerbook. Your blog postings are a blessing, and I am very grateful. I am especially grateful for your new book where I can read the blessings at a quiet time away from the computer. Something that gives me joy this season is music. As I am doing email over lunch I am listening to this beautiful music of Hildegard of Bingen:
    Another blessing is gatherings such as the one you described. Yesterday I attended a very tiny one that was just the family and me. There was gospel reading, laying on of hands, shared fellowship with food. A special part was a meditation in which we blew bubbles and said words for the new year. Ones chosen included peace, compassion, light and unity. The bubbles were very special and reminded of some more music from a different tradition, Yogananda’s chant “I am the bubble, make me the Sea”:

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Bob, thank you so much for these gifts of your words and this music! I am grateful.

      The gathering with your family sounded so lovely, bubbles and all! Thank you for giving us a glimpse of that time you shared together.

      Your story reminded me of a lovely experience I had on the day we buried Gary’s ashes. When we came back to my brother’s house—the house where we had grown up—his grandchildren were playing in the yard with bubbles, using a wand that made really big bubbles. The family sat in the yard for a long time, watching the bubbles drift. On such a tender day, the bubbles with the family came as an unexpected comfort and solace.

      Thank you again. Sending many blessings for you and your family as Christmas draws near!

  3. Sandra Eckstein Says:

    It is14 months since my dear husband’s death.A friend gave me The Cure for Sorrow. It is heartbreakingly accurate in portraying my own experience. Thank you for attending this sorrow I now know. Blessing Where a Life Was Made describes our life and love. For someone else to understand this pain and love validates where I am.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Sandi, I am so sorry about your husband’s death. Thank you for the gift of the words you have offered here out of your own grief. I am sending so many blessings for you as you navigate this path. May the veil be thin, and may many graces attend your way. Deep peace to you.

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