Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

She Sings of the Light by Which He First Arrived

December 2, 2017

Gary, Illuminated

Four years ago today, on the second day of Advent, this remarkable man died. Grief time does not work like normal time, and I will say that Gary’s death feels both more ancient and more recent than that. I am tremendously grateful for the graces that have accompanied me in this quartet of years, and for the wondrous grace that came into my life in the form of Garrison Doles.

This is a photo from a shoot we did at the marvelous Historic State Theatre in Eustis, Florida. At the time, we were a little vexed by some of the lighting challenges. Looking back at the photos from this side of his death, I am struck by the play of the light around Gary, and how it seemed to know what it was doing, in ways we couldn’t have realized at the time.

This photo inspired this new poem. It’s for the one whose light continues to be such a grace. And it’s for you, with gratitude.

On the Anniversary of His Death, She Sings of the Light
by Which He First Arrived

Let it be said you arrived
like an annunciation that night,
a tangle of light and song,
ghost of wing promising
equal parts shelter
and flight.

No angel, you, but you knew
about the weak points between worlds,
those membranes that give way
to the strange meetings
it takes a strong heart
to hold.

You lived betwixt.

So, sure, I can see you kin
to that herald who came hailing
the girl who had been minding
her own self until the moment
he alighted, a luminous tumble
of flesh and wing and word, saying
blessed are you and
do not fear and
you will bear.

Imagine the blazing of
that moment, the brilliance
not even visible, perhaps, but
seared into her bones
by the collision of speech and fire
that would send her from there
quickened and

You entered like that.

More subtle, perhaps,
but with unmistakable heat
and a cadence not entirely
of this earth.

And blessed am I
who bear it now:
scar of what burned between us,
testimony to that fearsome,
gladsome light that struck
like a match to the heart,
radiating into a map
beneath my skin,
the lines of it singing
as they show the way
from here.

—Jan Richardson

Advent 4: Gabriel and Mary

December 19, 2014

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 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 (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 helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. (Be sure to check out our Advent special on annual subscriptions at the images site! $125, regularly $165.)

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Advent 2: Prepare

December 5, 2012

Image: Prepare © Jan L. Richardson

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

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


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

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

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

Prepare, prepare.

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

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

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

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

Advent 2: The Mystery of Approach

Since John the Baptist appears in the Advent lectionary each year—and more than once—there are a number of other reflections here that feature him. To find them, simply enter “John the Baptist” in the search bar near the top of this page.

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

Advent 1: Drawing Near

November 25, 2012

Image: Drawing Near © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 1, Year C: Luke 21.25-36

Now when these things begin to take place, stand up
and raise your heads, because your redemption
is drawing near.

—Luke 21.28

Drawing Near
A Blessing to Begin Advent

It is difficult to see it from here,
I know,
but trust me when I say
this blessing is inscribed
on the horizon.
Is written on
that far point
you can hardly see.
Is etched into
a landscape
whose contours you cannot know
from here.
All you know
is that it calls you,
draws you,
pulls you toward
what you have perceived
only in pieces,
in fragments that came to you
in dreaming
or in prayer.

I cannot account for how,
as you draw near,
the blessing embedded in the horizon
begins to blossom
upon the soles of your feet,
shimmers in your two hands.
It is one of the mysteries
of the road,
how the blessing
you have traveled toward,
waited for,
ached for
suddenly appears
as if it had been with you
all this time,
as if it simply
needed to know
how far you were willing
to walk
to find the lines
that were traced upon you
before the day
that you were born.

—Jan Richardson

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

Advent 1: Practicing the Apocalypse

And if you don’t know about the online Advent retreat that Gary and I will be leading from December 1-29, please check it out by clicking the icon below. Folks have been signing up for the retreat from around the world; we would love for you to join us!

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

Christmas Day: How the Light Comes

December 21, 2011

And the Darkness Did Not Overcome It © Jan L. Richardson

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

I love how John tells it. His version of the Christmas story is absent of anything we can put into a manger scene—no baby Jesus, no Mary who dared to say yes to an archangel, no Joseph who risked believing in his dreams and allied himself with Mary and her child. No shepherds. No angels. No far-traveling, gift-bearing Magi wafting in on the fragrances of frankincense and myrrh.

John pares away the Christmas story to its essence: The Word. Light. Life. Dwelling among us. In the flesh.

Glory and grace and truth.

In his telling, John the Evangelist invokes John the Baptist, Jesus’ way-making cousin who haunts the season of Advent. Himself a pared-down figure—the wilderness having worn away anything that would have hindered him from his call—John the Baptist is utterly at home in John the Evangelist’s telling of the story that enchants with its poetic simplicity and beauty. The Baptist knows about the basics, knows about getting to the heart of things, knows what it means to divest ourselves of anything that hinders us from preparing a way for the Word and proclaiming its presence in our midst.

And so for this day, in the Spirit of John the Evangelist and John the Baptist, a simple blessing and a prayer: that we may tell the story, that we may testify to the light, that the Word may take flesh in us this day and in all the days to come.

How the Light Comes:
A Blessing for Christmas Day

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.

P.S. For previous reflections for Christmas Day, click the images or titles below:

Christmas Day: Witness of that Light

Tangled Up in You

Door 25: The Book of Beginnings

Christmas Day: An Illuminated Joy

[Thanks to Jenee Woodard for featuring the “And the Darkness Did Not Overcome It” image this week at The Text This Week. To use this image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]

Winter Solstice: Blessing for the Longest Night

December 19, 2011

Image: Longest Night © Jan Richardson

This week, in addition to preparing for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, many congregations will offer a “Longest Night” or “Blue Christmas” service. Usually held on or near the Winter Solstice, this gathering provides a space for those who are having a difficult time during the holidays or simply need to acknowledge some pain or loss they are carrying in the midst of this season of celebration. For you who are offering or participating in such a service, and for all who struggle in this season, I wish you many blessings and pray for the presence of Christ our Light, who goes with us in the darkness and in the day.

Blessing for the Longest Night

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

—Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow

[Update: Thanks to everyone who has contacted me to ask for permission to use this blessing for a Longest Night/Blue Christmas service. If you’d like to use “Blessing for the Longest Night” in a service, I’d be delighted for you to do so; simply include this credit line:

© Jan Richardson.

No need to write me for permission, though I would be pleased to hear where you’re using it. If you’d like to use the artwork, please scroll down to the end of this post for info. Many thanks!]

P.S. For previous reflections on the Winter Solstice, click the images or titles below:

Winter Solstice: The Moon Is Always Whole

Door 21: Blue Plate Special

Solstice: A Woman in Winter
(From my Sanctuary of Women blog)

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

Advent 3: The Prayer Book of John the Baptist

December 8, 2011

Image: Prayer Book of John the Baptist © Jan Richardson

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

The Prayer Book of John the Baptist

Is written on
locusts’ wings.

Is stained with
wild honey.

Is buckled by
baptismal waters.

Is mostly
pages of wilderness
where prayers are formed
not from what is present
but from what has been
worn away.

Is inscribed
with an ancient path.

Is waiting.

Is falling open
toward the light.

—Jan Richardson

For the 2014 reflection on this passage, click the image or title below:

Testify to the Light
Advent 3: Testify to the Light

For a previous reflection on this passage, click this image or title:

Where I’m From

For a reflection on this Sunday’s reading from Isaiah, visit:

Raising the Ruins

[To use the image “Prayer Book of John the Baptist,” please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]

Advent 2: While You Are Waiting

December 4, 2011

Image: Like One Day © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Epistles, Advent 2, Year B: 2 Peter 3.8-15a

Wait. It’s the word perhaps most associated with the season of Advent, often showing up in the company of the word patience. And indeed in today’s lection from the epistles we see these kindred words make their appearance together as Peter counsels his friends—beloved, he calls them—about time and waiting.

So often we talk about waiting as a passive state, a condition in which we can only cool our heels while a desired result makes its slow and seemingly meandering way toward us. And yet, as we frequently see in the readings for Advent, waiting is a practice that often calls us to work. Peter’s letter is a great example of this. In this missive written to a church in need of encouragement and hope, he uses a fistful of active verbs to tell of how we are to wait for God: leading lives, hastening the coming of the day of God, strive, regard.

I’m struck by how, when Peter uses the word patience or patient, he isn’t simply describing how we are to wait; he is talking about an aspect of God. He tells his friends of how God “is patient with us, not wanting any to perish.” He urges them, “Regard the patience of the Lord as our salvation.”

Sometimes I wait in a way that seems to distance me from God. I push against time; I push against God, who I think should be moving with greater speed and whose sense of time, as Peter points out, is so different from ours. Patience can feel punishing and solitary; it’s what’s left to me while God—who has all the time in the world—takes God’s sweet time.

Yet Peter’s words challenge me to be mindful that patience is not simply something God expects of us; it is also an aspect of God’s own nature. And in telling us of how God is patient with us, I sense that Peter means that God is not only patient toward us—we who, in our flawed state, require so much forbearance from the Divine—but also that God is patient alongside us: that patience is a quality and a practice that God and humans share in together. Waiting is a point of connection between us and God as we all wait with one another for the fullness of time.

It’s important to remember that there is holy waiting—patience that draws us deeper into the heart and the designs of God. And there is waiting that is something other than holy—those occasions when our waiting actually is resistance to taking a necessary action. Or when someone else tells us to be patient because in fact they are unwilling to act or do not want us to act. I think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he wrote, “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’”

And so there is a third word we must bear in mind when waiting and patience make their appearance: discernment needs to be in their company, that we may recognize the time for waiting and the time for taking right action. Discernment itself is a kind of waiting, a practice by which we seek to know the next step God would have us take, rather than relying on our own impulses.

Waiting—and the discernment to which waiting calls us—requires that we clear away what distracts us from seeing clearly. It bids us to make a space in which, in the midst of all the input that comes from those seeking to tell us what we should do, we still ourselves and listen. Making this kind of space can be wrenching, when we are so attached to the things that help us fill our time. Yet this space is rich with possibility and with presence; to use an Advent image, it is pregnant.

“Absence, emptiness, is a bowl of receptivity,” writes artist and calligrapher Laurie Doctor. “Often we want to fill it quickly—and then it gets crowded with all kinds of replacements: busyness, self-importance, lists, talking, TV, email, Scrabble. But waiting, active waiting, as if that bowl will be filled with presence as easily as it was emptied, leads us somewhere else.”

How are you waiting? Where is your waiting leading you? In this season, how are you making a space for stillness and for listening, that you might know what you need to wait for and how God is calling you to participate in what God is bringing about?

Blessing for Waiting

Who wait
for the night
to end

bless them.

Who wait
for the night
to begin

bless them.

Who wait
in the hospital room
who wait
in the cell
who wait
in prayer

bless them.

Who wait
for news
who wait
for the phone call
who wait
for a word

who wait
for a job
a house
a child

bless them.

Who wait
for one who
will come home

who wait
for one who
will not come home

bless them.

Who wait with fear
who wait with joy
who wait with peace
who wait with rage

who wait for the end
who wait for the beginning
who wait alone
who wait together

bless them.

Who wait
without knowing
what they wait for
or why

bless them.

Who wait
when they
should not wait
who wait
when they should be
in motion
who wait
when they need
to rise
who wait
when they need
to set out

bless them.

Who wait
for the end
of waiting
who wait
for the fullness
of time
who wait
emptied and
open and

who wait
for you,

o bless.

—Jan Richardson

2015 update: “Blessing for Waiting” appears in Jan’s new book Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. You can find the book here.

P.S. For a related reflection on waiting, click the image or title below:

Door 15: Another Name for Patience

[To use the image “Like One Day,” please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]

*Resources for the Season*

Advent 2: Blessing the Way

December 1, 2011

Blessing the Way © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 2, Year B: Mark 1.1-8

To write this piece, I had to go for a walk, had to be in motion as I pondered Mark’s words about John the Baptist, this man who devoted his life to preparing a way. Up one street and down another, I thought about roads that I had taken. I remembered an enchanted afternoon spent with friends in rural Virginia, walking through the woods on a pathway that had been there since colonial times. I thought of the small stretch of the Appalachian Trail that I hiked one day, and of my brother who had traveled the entire length of the trail, nearly 2200 miles, the year before. I recalled occasions that I have navigated a labyrinth, tracing the ancient pattern that has provided a contemplative path for centuries.

In my vocation as an artist/writer/minister, I live constantly with the awareness that there are no maps for what I am doing; that I am making the path as I go, with all the wonders and challenges this brings. Yet Advent is a season that calls me to remember that even as I move across what seems like uncharted territory, there is a way that lies beneath the way that I am going. Others have traveled here ahead of me, each in their own fashion yet providing pieces that I can use: scraps of words, images, prayers, stories; fragments that help me to find my way and enable me to smooth the path a bit for others yet to come.

In some sense we are all creating the road as we go. Yet beneath this, undergirding this, is a path carved by those who have traveled here before us, who followed the God who called them to the journey, who gave themselves to preparing a way for the One who came into the world to walk with us.

What path are you traveling in this Advent season? What do you find along the way that can help you create the road as you go? Who has helped to fashion the path and has provided inspiration to walk it in your own manner? How might you prepare the way—and become part of the way—for the Christ who comes to us?

Blessing the Way

With every step
you take,
this blessing rises up
to meet you.

It has been waiting
long ages for you.

Look close
and you can see
the layers of it,

how it has been fashioned
by those who walked
this road before you,

how it has been created
of nothing but
their determination
and their dreaming,

how it has taken
its form
from an ancient hope
that drew them forward
and made a way for them
when no way could be

Look closer
and you will see
this blessing
is not finished,

that you are part
of the path
it is preparing,

that you are how
this blessing means
to be a voice
within the wilderness

and a welcome
for the way.

—Jan Richardson

2015 update: “Blessing the Way” appears in Jan’s new book Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. You can find the book here.

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

A Way in the Wilderness

Since John the Baptist appears in the Advent lectionary each year—and more than once—there are a number of reflections here that feature him. To find them, simply enter “John the Baptist” in the search bar near the top of this page.

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

Blessing the Door

November 23, 2011

Blessing the Door © Jan L. Richardson

Welcome to Advent, almost! I have been eagerly looking forward to opening The Advent Door once again and journeying with you through the coming season. This is The Advent Door’s fifth year. When I first began this blog, I hardly imagined where it would take me—how it would change me as an artist and writer, how it would bring connections with folks around the world in cyberspace, how it would draw me ever deeper into the wonders and mysteries contained in the sacred stories of this season. Every year I learn, all over again, that when you open a door, you never quite know where it will lead.

Advent begins this Sunday. As we cross into this new season—which, in the liturgical calendar, begins a new year as well—I’m standing with my toes on the threshold, peeking through the doorway, wondering just what this season might hold in store. I’ll be keeping vigil in the studio and am curious to see what will emerge here after a season that has seemed fairly fallow, art-wise. Though this fallow time has had its frustrations, I know also that if Advent has taught me anything, it’s that waiting—a word that’s always attached to this season of anticipation—is much more active than we usually make it out to be. Even in fallow times, preparation is taking place deep underground in ways we can’t always perceive.

So today, we begin with a door, and with a blessing. As you stand on the edge of Advent, here at the door, what do you hope for the season ahead? How will you keep yourself—your eyes, your ears, your heart—open for the unimagined surprises the coming weeks will hold, and for the Christ who has been waiting for you?

Blessing the Door

First let us say
a blessing
upon all who have
entered here before

You can see the sign
of their passage
by the worn place
where their hand rested
on the doorframe
as they walked through,
the smooth sill
of the threshold
where they crossed.

Press your ear
to the door
for a moment before
you enter

and you will hear
their voices murmuring
words you cannot
quite make out
but know
are full of welcome.

On the other side
these ones who wait—
for you,
if you do not
know by now—
understand what
a blessing can do

how it appears like
nothing you expected

how it arrives as
outrageous invitation,

how it takes the form
of angel
or dream;

how it comes
in words like
How can this be?
lifted up the lowly;

how it sounds like
in the wilderness
prepare the way.

Those who wait
for you know
how the mark of
a true blessing
is that it will take you
where you did not
think to go.

Once through this door
there will be more:
more doors
more blessings
more who watch and
wait for you

but here
at this door of
the blessing cannot
be said without you.

So lay your palm
against the frame
that those before you

place your feet
where others paused
in this entryway.

Say the thing that
you most need
and the door will
open wide

and by this word
the door is blessed
and by this word
the blessing is begun
from which
door by door
all the rest
will come.

P.S. This blessing is from my new eBook, Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas. Available now on Kindle! Preview & order here on Amazon: Through the Advent Door.

[To use the Blessing the Door image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]