Archive for the ‘Gospel of Matthew’ Category

Advent 1: The Vigil Kept for Us

November 27, 2016

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…
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Using Jan’s words…
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Advent 4: The Annunciation to Joseph

December 14, 2010


Nativity © Jan L. Richardson

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

In a Book of Hours created in France in the Middle Ages, there is a depiction of the Nativity that I love. In the foreground, Joseph holds the newborn Jesus on his lap. They lean their heads close toward one another as the donkey and the ox—those animals of the manger who appear in every medieval depiction of Jesus’ arrival—look on. In the background, spent from her labor, Mary is in bed, happily reading a book.

The medieval artist who created this illuminated page has captured the essence of Joseph. His depiction of Joseph holding his chosen son is deeply grounded in this Sunday’s gospel lection, where Matthew tells us practically everything we know of this man who became the earthly father of God. In this passage from Matthew’s opening chapter, we observe Joseph as he receives his own Annunciation. In his dreaming, he hears from an angel some of the very words that Mary heard in her waking: “Do not be afraid,” the angel tells him, just before announcing the outlandish request that God is making of Joseph.

Last week we heard Mary’s Magnificat, the song she sings in response to Elizabeth’s blessing: the song of the God who does outlandish things in this world. This week we see how the spirit of Mary’s Magnificat echoes in Joseph’s own life.  Her song resounds in Joseph’s choice not to send away his pregnant fiancé but rather to cast his lot with her and with the child she will bear. Joseph’s choice mirrors Mary’s own. Each with their own response, Joseph and Mary alike bear witness to the God who reorders, disturbs, unsettles the world—the God who seeks to do this through God’s people. Through us.

The man whom I love has a son, and his son whom I love has changed how I read Joseph’s story. I am intrigued by this Joseph who claimed a child who was not his own, this man who drew a circle of family not only around Mary but also around her son, her Word-made-flesh. I think of Joseph sometimes when I am with Emile, this young man who is replete with words of his own, who, especially as a child, used them endlessly and intensely and who could alternately delight me with his love of words and wear out my contemplative soul with his abundance of them.

I love the love of word play that Emile inherited from his father, how the three of us connect through this, how he surprises me with his turns of phrase: “Have you ever taken a succulent ham on a picnic?” he once asked as a young boy. And then how he could turn words into daggers. As he moved through childhood, Emile dosed me regularly with the reality, with the earthiness, of a boy filled with words that sometimes came with lots of grit.

Emile has mellowed as a teenager, the abundance and intensity of his words settling into a different rhythm. And as he moves into his own life, his own choices, there are times I miss the sound of his voice and the presence of his words. I choose him still, and the message he bears. Ten years since first meeting this man and his child, I still choose this stretching into a vast, unknown terrain that the journey with this father and son calls me to.

Mary was not the only one who chose to leave the life she had thought would be hers. In choosing Mary and her child, in welcoming the Word into his life, Joseph had his own threshold to cross, his own radical yes to say to God. Perhaps on the night of Jesus’ birth, Joseph lifted up a father’s Magnificat in syllables lost to us; perhaps, in a shelter far from home, he wove them into a lullaby for his chosen child.

What are you choosing this day? In your waking, in your dreaming, how are you listening for and attending to the messages and the invitations that are waiting for you?

A Prayer for Choosing

What we choose
changes us.

Who we love
transforms us.

How we create
remakes us.

Where we live
reshapes us.

So in all our choosing,
O God, make us wise;

in all our loving,
O Christ, make us bold;

in all our creating,
O Spirit, give us courage;

in all our living
may we become whole.

An Advent bonus: Click this audio player to hear my husband’s song “Only Joseph,” from his wondrous Christmas CD, The Night of Heaven and EarthGarrison Doles):

[A portion of this reflection is adapted from my book The Luminous Word: Entering the Mysteries of Advent & Christmas. “A Prayer for Choosing” is from In Wisdom’s Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season © Jan L. Richardson.]

[To use the “Nativity” image, 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: The Advent Spiral

December 12, 2010

While the postings for this week are percolating, here are links to previous reflections on several of the lectionary texts for Advent 4 (December 19). Blessings to you!

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19: Door 19: The Inhabited Psalter

Romans 1:1-7: Door 22: In Which We Get Called on the Carpet

Matthew 1:18-25: Door 23: Doing Some Dreaming

And a Happy Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe:

The Day of the Lady

Advent 3: When the Prison Bars Bled Light

December 9, 2010


When the Prison Bars Bled Light © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 2, Year A: Matthew 11.2-11

A week in which I haven’t had a lot of hurry left in me. Much to do that seems important, much of it done, but in the midst of it, a craving for Advent quiet and rest.

Finally, last night, a few hours in the studio. Laying gold paint upon the papers that will find their way into the collages to come. One layer of gold, then another. Placing them to dry on newspapers on the floor. Gary pokes his head into the room, sees the papers, comments on the pathway of gold.

Later, after the drying, I pick up a few of the shimmering sheets. Cover the gold entirely with gray. Let the gray dry just enough, then take sandpaper to it.

All through the painting, the drying, the sanding, watching the gold emerge from the gray, I am thinking about John the Baptist, the Preparer of the Way who now sits in prison. His path brought to an abrupt and unjust end.

This is the John of whom we read in Luke 1, where his mother, Elizabeth, says to her kinswoman Mary, “For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” A leap of recognition, Luke means us to see: even in his mother’s womb, John the Way-Maker, John the Messenger, is able to discern and recognize the One for whom the world has longed.

It is a far different enclosure that John finds himself in now. He will not emerge from this one into life, as when he left the safe confines of his mother’s womb. This enclosure will lead instead to his death at a gruesome dinner party.

And yet, even here, John’s powers of discernment are at full force. Enclosed within his cell, John has not closed in on himself. This one whom Jesus calls a messenger is still receiving messages. Is still keeping his ears and eyes open. Is still able to turn his attention beyond himself. “When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing . . .” Matthew writes. That phrase. When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing. How the Word permeates even the prison walls. Shines forth even through the prison bars. Illuminates the darkest cell.

I think about these things as, beneath the sandpaper, gold begins to peek through the gray. Think of how John in his confinement refused to stop looking, stop preparing, stop seeing. Even in his enforced and final enclosure, John persists in turning an eye toward the Messiah. Seeks him. Inquires after him. When John’s disciples return to him with news of the blind who see, the lame who walk, the lepers made whole, he knows. Recognizes once again. Leaps, perhaps, for joy.

And what of us? In these Advent days, how do we turn our attention beyond our own walls, beyond our own limits? How do we open ourselves to hear and see past what presses in upon us, that we may receive the message, the Word that comes to us?

In this season, may you hear and see the One who comes, and proclaim the news of what he is doing. Blessings.

[To use the “When the Prison Bars Bled Light” image, 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: The Advent Spiral

December 5, 2010

With having the launch celebration for my new book a couple of nights ago, and all the preparations that went into that splendid evening, I have not quite finished my first post for Advent 3 (December 12). I’m aiming to publish it tomorrow. In the meantime, though, I would be pleased for you to spiral back around and visit my earlier images and reflections on the readings for the coming Sunday, from my first year of doing The Advent Door, three years ago. You can click on the images or the post titles to find your way.

Now that the book celebration is past, and I’m home for a few weeks, I look forward to posting more frequently here. Not daily, as I did during that first year at The Advent Door! But I invite you to swing back by in the near future to take a breath and savor a few quiet moments in this season that is often so frantic. Know that I’m holding you in prayer in these Advent days.

Blessings to you.

Isaiah 35:1-10: Door 10: Hitting the Highway

Luke 1:47-55 (alternate reading/United Methodist reading): Door 11: In Which We Get to Sing

Matthew 11:2-11: Door 16: The News in Prison

James 5:7-10: Door 15: Another Name for Patience

Advent 2: A Road Runs Through It

November 29, 2010


A Road Runs Through It © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 2, Year A: Matthew 3.1-12

Driving home from the Thanksgiving holiday, this gospel passage on my mind, I spent most of my time thinking about roads. I thought of roads I have traveled, the ones already laid down for me: pathways made of concrete, of asphalt, of dirt, of stone. Pathways made of traditions, of the habits of communities, of the patterns of institutions. I thought of roads I have made where, as a minister-artist-writer, there were none: ways I have made through imagination, through dreaming, through effort and intention. Roads made of words, paint, paper; roads fashioned of longing and of prayer.

I thought of what it takes to make a way, how it is that we create a passage from one place to another within the landscape of the world or of our own inner terrain. How we must discern the materials to use, and the tools; how crucial to learn to navigate, to reckon, to read the lay of the land. How we sometimes find a path as much by stumbling as by skill. How we may have to tear up a road, make it again in a different direction.

But I think the Advent road is perhaps not like this. That it is not one that we can fashion from our striving and our skill. That when John the Baptist comes over that wilderness horizon, smelling of camel’s hair, his lips dripping with honey and with fire, he is pointing toward a way that we can make only by what we give up, what we shed, what we let go of.

Looking and sounding so like the prophets who preceded him, John the Baptist is a man drenched in the desert. Although we know little about his life prior to now, the gospel writers viewed him as the one of whom Isaiah wrote, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” John has been schooling himself in divestment, shedding himself of everything that would obstruct the path he has been called to prepare.

As the Baptist strides into the Advent landscape, he reminds us that there is much that connects this season with the season of Lent, with its images of wilderness and its invitation to let go of what hinders us from God. John’s presence, so early in the Advent lectionary, calls us to see that beneath the twinkle lights and trimmings that permeate these pre-Christmas days, there is a terrain more spare and elemental: a landscape in which we learn to turn away from what distracts us so that we can welcome the one for whom we are waiting. This turning is at the heart of John’s message to his hearers: “Repent,” he calls out, “for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

John’s fiery words, especially those he addresses to the Pharisees and Sadducees, can overwhelm with their sheer force and disturbing forthrightness. Yet there is something that we—that I—need to hear within the fierceness of John’s message. It is difficult to make a way for the one who comes if I am not turned in the right direction. It is hard to perceive the kingdom of heaven if there are obstructions in my path—if I have not, to borrow one of John’s images, sorted out the chaff, to make a space for the one who will enter to do his own clearing away.

Although the Advent path leads us through the desert, deprivation is neither the focus nor the final word of the wilderness. As the honey-eating John knew, the desert offers its own delights. What the wilderness gives us is a path that helps us perceive where our true treasure lies. And does not merely give us a path: empties us enough so that a path is made within us. Through us. Of us. A road for the holy to enter the world. A way for the Christ who comes.

What’s in your way these days? If you were to imagine your life as a path, a road, what would it look like right now? Is there anything cluttering your way? Is there something you need to let go of in order to prepare the way for the Christ who enters the world in this and every season?

Blessings to you in these Advent days. May you find delights even in the desert spaces of this season.

[For a previous reflection on this text, visit Door 9: Making Way.]

P.S. My husband and I are hosting a party this week to celebrate the publication of my new book, In the Sanctuary of Women. If you’re in the Orlando vicinity—or are in need of a Florida getaway in December—please join us! The celebration will be this Friday, December 3, at 8 PM at First United Methodist Church of Winter Park. Visit Sanctuary Celebration for more info.

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

Advent 1: Where Advent Begins

November 21, 2010


Where Advent Begins © Jan L. Richardson

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

Those who have been journeying with me for a while know that this has been my most intense year ever. “Wild and wondrous” is the way I have often described this year that has included getting married, moving, completing and launching a new book, and some major trips for work. The year has been so full that it’s only been just recently that my husband and I, who got married in April, have been home long enough and without major deadlines looming that we have begun to do things like buy furniture and unpack the rest of our boxes.

It has been a year of upheaval: leaving the cozy apartment that I had lived in for a dozen years, moving out of the single life I had always known, settling into a new home, learning to navigate the rhythms of this community of two that Gary and I are making. The year has, at times, been unsettling as it has brought deep and welcome changes but also a schedule that has sometimes made it challenging to absorb and live into those changes. And the year has held, too, the sorts of disruptions and upheavals that always lie beyond our control. Gary and I have just returned from the funeral of one of my aunts. The rituals and gatherings that followed her death, with their bittersweet mix of sorrow and celebration, offered a powerful reminder of how this life that we share is so unpredictable and fragile, yet so persistently resilient.

And it is in the midst of all this that Advent begins. Each time that I enter this season, I carry fond desires and imaginings about how this will be the year that I find time to cultivate a space of calm as we travel toward Christmas; perhaps this will be the year that I won’t sit in the worship service on Christmas Eve night and think, Now I’m ready for Advent to begin.

Yet, especially in this wild and wondrous year, I suspect that Advent will unfold in much the same way that it has previously: it will be intense (that word, again) and pass more quickly than I would like, leaving me wishing, on Christmas Eve, that I had somehow managed to find a more contemplative pace. I find myself thinking, though, that perhaps this wish points toward the deeper invitation of Advent. Perhaps the preparation and expectation to which Advent calls us are not to be found solely in the spaces we set aside during this season. Although it’s important to keep working at finding those contemplative openings in these days, I suspect that Advent is what happens in the midst of all this. We find the heart of the season, the invitation of these weeks, amid the life that is unfolding around us, with its wildness and wonders and upheavals and intensities.

We see this in the lectionary, where the season of Advent begins on what seems a profoundly unsettling note. The gospel lection for the first Sunday of Advent is always a passage that, whether taken from Matthew, Mark, or Luke, is known as “the little apocalypse.” Each year the first gospel lection of Advent challenges us to remember that this season is a time not only of remembering the Christ who has already come to us but who, the gospels tell us, will come again, with attendant signs and wonders. Jesus calls his hearers—calls us—in these passages to keep awake, to stay alert, to be ready, for we do not know at what hour he will come.

As with the other little apocalypses, Matthew’s version disturbs and challenges us with its images of the loss and lack of security that come with Christ’s return: “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left,” Jesus says in this gospel. “Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” Matthew’s version is distinctive and dramatic for the way that Jesus introduces the language of thievery to describe how he will come: “But understand this,” Jesus says as he exhorts his listeners to keep awake; “if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.”

It can be tempting to recoil from the imagery that this opening lection gives us: Christ as burglar, coworkers and companions left bereft, the anxiety of not knowing when or how the Word who became flesh for us will come again. Yet the season of Advent challenges us to resist recoiling and instead to press into the insecurity and unsettledness of this passage—and of our lives. Advent beckons us beyond the certainties that may not serve us—those sureties we have relied on that may have no substance to them after all. Advent is a season to look at what we have fashioned our lives around—beliefs, habits, convictions, prejudices—and to see whether these leave any room for the Christ who is so fond of slipping into our lives in guises we may not readily recognize.

In her book The Vigil: Keeping Watch in the Season of Christ’s Coming—a beautiful reflection on Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany—Wendy M. Wright relates words given to her by a Trappist retreat master, who said, “To be a Christian does not mean knowing all the answers; to be a Christian means being willing to live in the part of the self where the question is born.” With this opening lection, Advent reminds us of this in a fashion that may seem painfully direct but can also be tremendously freeing: it tells us that we do not know everything, cannot know everything, are not responsible for knowing everything. It tells us that, ultimately, we live in mystery.

But it also tells us this: if we stay awake; if we open our eyes in the midst of our life, with all of its wildness and wonders, then we will see: something is coming. Drawing closer. Stealing home.

How will you stay awake in this season? What do you long for the weeks ahead to look like? How might you find God’s response to those longings in the rhythm of your life, in the midst of your days?

Whatever the pace of your life in this season, may wonders attend you.

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

Door 23: Doing Some Dreaming

December 23, 2007


Doing Some Dreaming © Jan L. Richardson

Among the leaves of a tenth-century illuminated manuscript in the Medici Library in Rome, Joseph lies dreaming. Hands resting on his stomach, brow creased, Joseph sleeps on a multicolored coverlet. Having just discovered that his fiance Mary is pregnant, Joseph has gone to bed thinking he will “dismiss her quietly,” as Matthew tells us in today’s Gospel reading (Mt. 1.18-25). He will wake up with a different plan altogether.

Coming from the upper corner of this manuscript page, an angel with boots and blue wings hurtles toward the slumbering Joseph. “Shooting towards Joseph like a projectile from heaven,” Sister Wendy Beckett says of the angel; “a spiritual rocket is about to land on his anxious slumbers, and his rational world will deconstruct.”

This vivid and homely depiction of Joseph’s dream, and Sister Wendy’s commentary on it, has me thinking today about the intersections between what we tend to call the real world and the world of the imagination, the realm of dreams and visions and stories. Sr. Wendy reminds us that although Jesus’ birth is marked by signs and wonders, it is rooted in the very real experience of a woman who finds herself pregnant and a man who has to discern how to respond to this.

“The birth of Christ,” Sr. Wendy observes in her commentary on this illumination, “can seem utterly removed from the everyday reality of our own life, elevated into a sacred sphere where all is peace and joy. Not so: Mary is living in a real world, though in her innocence she may not have appreciated the full dimensions of it.” (From Sister Wendy’s Nativity and Life of Christ, 1998.)

This artful depiction of the dreaming Joseph and his dive-bombing angel vividly illuminates the intersection of the real world with the dreaming world. Here in the final days of Advent, it’s a timely image, and a timely story, to ponder.

At this point in the Advent season, we may find ourselves wrestling with the hopes and expectations we carried into the season. Ideas we had about how we would spend these days may not have come to pass. Plans we made to have shopping completed by this point, gifts wrapped and under the tree (or in the mail), Christmas cards sent, decorations hung and radiant, cooking preparations under way—and time for intensely meaningful quiet reflection in the midst of it all—well, that just might not have happened quite the way we’d hoped. The real world—the realm in which people get sick, wars continue, death comes to call, relationships crumble, and women find themselves unexpectedly pregnant—may be impinging heavily on us in this season, and for some folks, there is deep dissonance between the culturally expected cheer of this season and the realities of what this month has brought.

How do we move beyond this dissonance to open ourselves to that deeper place where the real world and the dream world intersect?

The past few days of this Advent season have found me trying to discern my way through some chaos that erupted in my personal ecosystem. I’ve spent a fair chunk of time having conversations in my head with a couple of folks who have me sorely vexed. I’ve been focused on trying to move through the emotional layers toward a reasoned, rational, grounded response. But in contemplating the text that Matthew has given us for today, I find myself wondering, what if there’s some other realm I need to open myself to as I discern my way through this? Beyond the realm of emotion, and beyond the realm of reason—both of which are important realms to pay attention to—might there be an additional source that has some help and wisdom waiting for me?

I imagine that Joseph knew about emotion, that he had some kind of visceral reaction when Mary told him she was pregnant. In response, he drew on reason and rationality to form a plan.

And then, Matthew tells us, Joseph dreamed. And his dream came as an interruption, a disruption to both the emotional and reasoned realms he had been inhabiting and acting from. In that powerful collision between the real world and the dreaming world, so literally depicted in the manuscript in the Medici Library, a new way opened up for Joseph. And for Mary. And for Jesus.

As I continue to discern what role I’m being called to take in the chaos that’s gotten stirred up this week, I’m feeling challenged to carry that image of Joseph. His story, and its placement at this point in the Advent season, feels like an invitation to pay attention to my dreaming world. I’m not referring just to my night dreams; I’m thinking also of other realms where the unconscious bubbles up into my awareness. In my creative work, in my life of prayer and contemplation, in the landscape of my imagination: what wisdom might God be offering in those places? What messages might that realm have to offer, as Joseph discovered in his dreaming sleep?

How have you been experiencing the so-called real world in these Advent days? What hopes and expectations did you carry into this Advent season, and what are your hopes now? Who’s got your ear these days—family, friends, news media, old voices you’ve been carrying around in your head, sorely vexatious people with whom you’re having imaginary conversations—and what are they telling you?

What message do you need to hear? What realms are you listening into? How do you—how do we—cultivate an openness to the place where the real world and the dreaming world intersect and offer us the message that we most need?

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

Door 16: The News in Prison

December 16, 2007

advent16.jpg
The News in Prison © Jan L. Richardson

The third Sunday of Advent gives us Matthew 11.2-11 for our Gospel reading. In pondering this passage, I keep coming back to the first words of the opening verse:

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing…

John in prison, thrown there by Herod because he dared tell the king that it was unlawful for him to have married his brother’s wife.

John, locust-and-honey-eating prophet of the wilderness, confined to a cell.

John the way-maker, his own way ending in captivity and, shortly, a gruesome death.

But there, from behind his bars, John hears what Jesus is doing. I keep wondering what it must have been like for John, imprisoned, to receive word of the Messiah, the one for whom John had made a way. I wonder what wedge of hope, freedom, possibility the news must have stirred in John. I suspect he well knew he would never leave his physical captivity, but when this preparer of Jesus’ path receives word of what the Messiah is up to…what chains must have fallen away, what light must have gathered there in his cell?

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing…

So today I find myself thinking about the word of Christ that comes to those in captivity. I think of how in recent months I’ve felt drawn to pray for those who live in various kinds of bondage in body and/or soul: those in prison, those who have been kidnapped, those living with addictions that have bent and broken them. I think of, and pray for, those who live within systems of oppression and those who create their own systems and situations that rob them of power. I think of those who live in ostensible freedom but who, for reasons of fear or ignorance or seeming convenience or who knows what else, have given their power away little by little, in such small increments that they (we) hardly notice it until it’s nearly gone. In John’s company today, I find myself wondering where those prayers might lead me, what path they might be preparing.

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing…

In the space of lectio divina, today’s Advent Gospel also invites me to ponder whether there are any places of bondage within myself, any part of my being that lives with less freedom, less fullness than God intends. I think of occasions when I’ve struggled within an institutional system, or a relationship in which I gave too much power to the other person, or times in my life when things got so complicated that fatigue set in, and I allowed it to consume energy that would have been better spent figuring a way out of the complications.

I don’t beat myself up (anymore) (usually) about those occasions when I haven’t lived as fully as hindsight might have wished. Berating ourselves and giving power to regret is another form of bondage, and I’m not sorry for the wisdom I wrested from those times. It helps keep my vision clear as I continue down the path, and it increases the chances that I’ll recognize more quickly when I’m giving up some form of power that God means for me to keep.

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing…

On this Advent day, is there any place of unfreedom within you? Is there any part of your soul, your spirit, your mind that lives in confinement? To what, or to whom, are you giving power and control these days? Why?

What news of Christ, what word of hope, is God offering in that place of confinement? What is one tiny step that would lead to greater freedom?

How are you called to enter into the places where others live in bondage and captivity, and to speak news of liberation in those places?

The design for today’s Advent door drew inspiration in part from a quilt made by one of the amazing quilters of Gee’s Bend. A community of African-American women living in a rural enclave of Alabama, they have, over the course of generations, created vividly unique quilt forms that in recent years have drawn international attention and major exhibitions. Making today’s door while I pondered John in prison, I thought also of these women who, in their bones and in their collective memory, know about bondage and freedom, about making a way out of no way, about the power that the good news brings.

When John heard…

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