Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Solace Is Your Job Now

November 29, 2017

Image: The Luminous Dark © Jan Richardson

The words came to me sometime after Gary died:

Solace is your job now.

In the morass of early grief, the words brought a measure of relief. I knew that engaging the search for solace as my job—as my vocation and call at this place in my path—was something I could do, something that would help me move beyond the helplessness that grief can induce.

I knew the only way to find solace was to go into the grief: to be present to it, to listen to it, to allow it become a space where God would speak a new word into my life.

Spending time writing and being in the studio are two of the primary ways I have entered into the grief and begun to find the life that is waiting there. In ways I could not have anticipated at the time of Gary’s death, my journey with grief has reshaped my creative work. It’s resulted in projects such as my book The Cure for Sorrow, which was released last fall, and a new book coming out next year titled Sparrow: A Book of Life and Death and Life.

Although my work these days is less tied to the liturgical seasons, I continue to find places of deep resonance between my emerging work and the rhythms of the sacred year. I am especially mindful of this as we prepare to enter into this new Advent season.

Gary died at the beginning of Advent, so this season holds some particular sorrows. Yet I have learned that Advent is a season custom-made for experiencing how Christ meets us in the places that are most shadowed, most hopeless, most uncertain, most fearful. The trappings that have become associated with this season can make it difficult for us to see this. Yet beyond and beneath those trappings is the wondrous truth that lies at the heart of Advent and Christmas: that the Word became flesh and comes to us still as life, as light, as fierce love that does not abandon us in the darkest times.

The gifts of this season are beautifully and powerfully personal, but they are never just for us alone. The Word comes to us and takes flesh in us for the life of the world. After Gary’s death, when those words came to tell me Solace is your job now, I knew this was not an invitation to seek solace only for my own self. Solace is not solitary: when it comes, it is for sharing.

That’s what I want to do as we approach Advent: to share some solace with you, to offer some gifts that I hope will lend grace to your path through the coming season. A new printing of Night Visions, a reflection on the search for solace in Advent and Christmas, and more: in the brief sections below, you can find these gifts that come from my heart, for yours.

As Advent begins, I am holding you in prayer and carrying deep gratitude for your company on this path. In the coming season, may Christ our Light meet you with the gifts you most need, and may these gifts take flesh in you for the life of the world. A blessed Advent to you!


NIGHT VISIONS, ANEW: We have a shiny new printing of Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas ready for you! I love hearing from folks who return to this book each year, and from those who have received it as a gift from a friend. Find the book here.


A GIFT OF SOLACE: After Gary’s death, I wrote a reflection about carrying sorrow in the Advent season. Born of my search for a resource that goes beyond “managing your grief during the holidays,” the article draws deeply from the treasures Advent offers in its stories and images. If you are traveling through this season in grief, or know someone who is, this is for you. You can find it here as a downloadable PDF: This Luminous Darkness: Searching for Solace in Advent and Christmas.


THROUGH THE DOOR: My Advent e-book Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas invites us into a realm that shimmers with mystery and imagination. Like an Advent calendar, each day opens a new door that leads us deeper into this sacred season. The book includes 26 original images in color and is available in a Kindle version here. If you don’t have a Kindle e-reader, you can download a Kindle app to your computer, iPad, iPhone, etc.


IMAGES ONLINE: Jan Richardson Images makes my artwork available for use in worship, education, and related settings. During Advent, we’re offering a festive discount on subscriptions and renewals. Our special Advent rate is $125 (regularly $165). Single images are always available as well. The site offers many images for Advent, Christmas, and beyond. To subscribe, click here. You can also order any of the images as an art print!


CONNECTING: I have an author page on Facebook and would love to connect with you there! Give the page a like and it will bring my writing and art your way. You can find the page here: Jan Richardson.

Again, blessings to you as Advent draws near.

Celebrating Epiphany and Women’s Christmas

January 5, 2017

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

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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Christmas Day: Where the Light Begins

December 25, 2015

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

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

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.

Illuminated Advent 2014

November 21, 2014

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!

Celebrating Epiphany and Women’s Christmas

January 4, 2013


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


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!]

Almost Advent

November 20, 2012

It’s almost Advent! As we prepare to cross into the coming season, I am especially excited about what Advent holds in store this time around. At the top of my list of things that are inducing Advent excitement is the online Advent retreat that Gary and I will be offering. Here’s the skinny:

ILLUMINATED: An Online Journey into the Heart of Christmas
December 1-29

Travel toward Christmas in the company of folks who want to move through this season with mindfulness and grace. This online retreat is not about adding one more thing to your holiday schedule. It is about helping you find spaces for reflection that draw you deep into this season that shimmers with mystery and possibility. This retreat offers a space of elegant simplicity, much like the one created in my Advent book Night Visions. Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, this four-week online retreat provides a distinctive opportunity to travel through Advent and Christmas in contemplation and conversation with others along the way.

This is an Advent retreat for people who don’t have time for an Advent retreat (and for those who do!) You don’t have to show up at a particular place or time, and you’re welcome to engage the retreat as much or as little as you wish. You can do this retreat in your jammies!

We’re excited that the retreat is already drawing folks from around the world. We’d love for you to be among them. For more info about the retreat, visit Illuminated Advent Retreat.

I have a few other treats and treasures designed especially for your Advent journey:

GIFTS FOR THE JOURNEY: My main website, janrichardson.com, has lots of offerings that I’ve designed especially for your journey toward Christmas. You’ll find my books Night Visions and Through the Advent Door, greeting cards, and art prints. Great gifts for yourself and for others in this season. Open all hours; please stop by!

IMAGES ONLINE: Jan Richardson Images enables churches and other communities to use my artwork in worship, education, and other settings. Single images are available, or you can sign up for an annual subscription, which gives you unlimited downloads for a year. During Advent and Christmas, I’m offering a festive discount on annual subscriptions: for just $125, you can sign up for an artful year (regularly $165). The site offers many images for Advent, Christmas, and beyond. Visit Subscribe to Jan Richardson Images to sign up. You can also order any of the images as an art print.

NEW CD FROM GARRISON DOLES: My husband’s latest CD is hot off the press, and it’s amazing! Songmaker’s Christmas offers a stunning collection of twelve of Gary’s original songs for Christmas. Soulful and gorgeous and wise, these songs will open your ears and your heart anew to the stories of this season. Visit the CD page on Gary’s website to listen to song samples and place orders.

As we enter into Advent, I wish you many blessings and a wondrous journey.

P.S. If you’d like to receive these Advent Door blog posts via email, check out the “Subscribe by email” box in the sidebar (near the top, just above the cover for the Through the Advent Door eBook).