Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

Christmas Day: An Illuminated Joy

December 24, 2010

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

Greetings at the end of a day that has included a visit from our friend Eric, in town from Italy; driving with Gary to north Florida, where much of my family lives; and a Christmas Eve service at the white painted church in the pines of my hometown.

I had been invited to lead the candlelighting portion of the Christmas Eve service, which is always done in memory of those who have died since the last time we gathered on this night. I spoke of how John tells the Christmas story in his gospel: how, in his prologue, there is no manger, no inn to be turned away from; there are no angels, no shepherds, no wise men. John leaves these matters to others. Yet his telling of the incarnation has a strange beauty and power all its own. This, I said, is how he tells it:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God . . . .
What has come into being
in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

I spoke of how we were there tonight, gathered in that place, because of generations of people who went before us, each generation telling the next about the Word who came among us as life and as light. I read the names of the beloved dead who had carried the light of Christ among us, including my aunt who died just a few weeks ago. Then the children walked through the congregation, touching their tapers to our waiting candles.

After the service, after the family dinner that followed, we headed just a little farther north to my parents’ home. The moon was low and orange as we crossed Paynes Prairie. Somewhere in that prairie darkness, bison and alligators sleep. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the sun of Christmas Day has risen. It sends its message back to us, the moon bearing witness and passing the story along: how the light persists, how it shines in the darkness, and is not overcome.

As we move toward Christmas morning, I offer a reprise of one of the videos that Gary and I collaborated on last year; An Illuminated Joy intertwines his music with some of my images from a series called The Advent Hours. I invite you also to visit another video collaboration, Contemplating Christmas, and pray it will offer you some quietly festive moments this day.

Wherever you are, whatever your Christmas holds, I wish you a most blessed day, and may Christ our Light go with you. Peace to you, and Merry Christmas!

[For previous reflections for Christmas Day, see this post. For a reflection on the days after Christmas—or, rather, the days of Christmas, since Christmas is a twelve-day festival—please visit this post, which includes thoughts and artwork for this year’s gospel lection for Advent 1.]

Christmas Eve: A Circle of Quiet

December 23, 2010


A Circle of Quiet © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Christmas Eve, Years ABC: Luke 2.1-14 (15-20)

We draw close to the end of the season, and I find myself with fewer and fewer words. Divested of them as December wanes. These are days for gathering in, gathering up, gathering together the pieces as this year of Big Events draws to a close. Stealing moments for recollection and remembrance.

Standing now on this side of the passages that these past twelve months have held, I think of Mary, at the ending of the birthing and bringing forth:

after the angel
and let it be,
after Elizabeth
and blessed is she,
after angels
and shepherds
and alleluias:

quiet.

But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart, Luke tells us in the Gospel lection for Christmas Eve.

And so I am keeping quiet this night. Pondering. Treasuring. Gathering up the year nearly gone.

What are you treasuring as we make ready to cross into Christmas?

Prayer

And so we take the ragged fragments,

the patches of darkness
that give shape to the light;
the scraps of desires
unslaked or realized;
the memories of spaces
of blessing, of pain.

And so we gather the scattered pieces

the hopes we carry
fractured or whole;
the struggles of birthing
exhausted, elated;
the places of welcome
that bring healing and life.

And so we lay them at the threshold, God;

bid you hold them, bless them, use them;
ask you tend them, mend them,
transform them
to keep us warm,
make us whole,
and send us forth.

Prayer from Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas © Jan L. Richardson.

For previous reflections on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, see this post.

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

The Luminous Night

December 19, 2010


The Luminous Night © Jan L. Richardson

In a dark time, the eye begins to see.
—Theodore Roethke

When I opened The Advent Door this year—the fourth year that I have offered this—I had an idea of where I was going. I planned to offer reflections on several of the lectionary texts each week, along with new artwork for the season. As Advent unfolded, however, I found myself perpetually scrambling, doing well to post even one new reflection in the course of a week (and somehow managing to do two last week for the Advent 3 readings).

Earlier this week, I spent a couple of enormously frustrating days in the studio, wrestling with the gospel lection from Matthew. The dreaming Joseph was kicking me up one side and down the other as I tried to create a collage. At one point I asked Gary—whose eye for the creative process I deeply trust—to come take a look at something I had in process that I wasn’t sure was going anywhere. “Do you see anything here?” I asked him.

“I see a horse,” he said.

This is why it is really, really good to have some trusted eyeballs at hand, especially when I’ve been absorbed in working on something for a long stretch and have lost my perspective.

I scrapped that and set off in another direction. And another. And another. Finally, late that night, I made myself leave the studio and turn off the light.

I am familiar with what it’s like to get stuck in the studio, going one direction and another and not finding something that works. Oftentimes this means that a breakthrough is just around the corner, and that if I can keep working at it, persistence will finally yield its treasure. “Keep digging your well,” Rumi urges in one of his poems. “Water is there somewhere.”

I couldn’t shake the sense, though, that this wasn’t one of those times. That the best choice might be the one that I resort to the least often: It was time to give in. Time to realize that I had allowed my vision for The Advent Door this year to become more of a cage or an insurmountable wall than a—well, than a door.

Giving in hasn’t simply been a reactionary response to getting frustrated with one piece of artwork. And it hasn’t just been about realizing that, at the end of this year of getting married and moving and finishing a book and traveling across the country, my creative soul is tired. While the frustration and the creative fatigue are real, they are manifestations of something that lies beneath them, a more fundamental matter that will not be solved by rest alone, though I’m looking to do some of that in the coming days.

I have sensed for some time that another shift is brewing in my artwork. I haven’t been able to spend enough time in the studio this year to really explore it except in fits and starts. I trust this has been a year where my absence from the studio has been okay, and that even when I wasn’t working on the art, the art was working on me.

When I returned to the studio at the beginning of Advent—when I walked through that door—it was with much excitement. It didn’t take too long, however, for that excitement to give way to frustration, and then to the realization that the shift is still in the works and will take time and patience to sort through.

This is normal stuff for an artist. It’s normal stuff for anybody, given that so much of our lives are spent navigating changes and transitions—those we have chosen as well as those that have chosen us. I have worked my way through enough passages to be acquainted with the mixture of anxiety and wonder they evoke, and to recognize that amidst feeling lost in the passage—the kind of lostness that prompts me to wonder, Do I still have any art in me?—I feel a keen sense of excitement as well.

Who knows what will happen when we walk through a door? As the keeper of The Advent Door, I ought to have known better than to imagine I knew what lay ahead. Now I am reminded—once again—of the mystery and the invitation that attend every threshold. Now, shed of my expectations, I can breathe easier, and walk with greater freedom. Now, like Joseph, I can do some dreaming, and see what angel shows up.

At one point during my frustrating days in the studio earlier this week, a piece of deep blue paper, stained with stars, came to rest upon a layer of gold. Yesterday I glued them together. I think of it not as a finished collage but as a piece in process. Or, rather, a piece of the process. A glimpse of the unfolding taking place. A window onto a luminous night.

I think it’s no accident that last week held the feast day of St. John of the Cross, the remarkable Spanish mystic who wrote of the dark night of the soul and of the beauty and power of the Christ who waits for us in those places where the expected path has grown dark and we have lost our way.

I don’t know what this time of exploring and moving with the shift will mean for my blogging. For now, I anticipate continuing to tend The Advent Door through the season, only in a different way than I had planned. I have already begun to do this over the past few days, in offering some images and pieces from earlier in my journey. As always, I welcome your company and hold you in prayer, especially as we draw close to the festival of Christmas.

And I ask you: As you entered this Advent season, did you have expectations and plans? How have these expectations served you? Have your plans helped you to be present to the path that God had in store for you? Or have they hindered you from seeing the surprises along the way? In the remaining days of Advent, is there a door you may yet need to go through?

In the daylight and in the darkness, may the presence of Christ attend your path. At every threshold, at every door, may you have wisdom to know where your way leads, and courage to walk it. Blessings.

Christmas Eve/Christmas Day: The Advent Spiral

December 19, 2010

Now on our fourth turn through Advent, we have accumulated a bit of a library of images and reflections for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. As we anticipate the coming celebrations, here are some blogs from Christmas past. Click on the image or title to page your way through them.

Reflections and images for Christmas Eve:

Christmas Eve: Longing for Light

Door 24: The Secret Room

Where the Foreign Meets the Familiar

Reflections and images for Christmas Day:

Christmas Day: Witness of that Light

Tangled Up in You

Door 25: The Book of Beginnings

P.S. A Little Holiday Housekeeping: For those just tuning in: through Christmas, we’re offering a discount on annual subscriptions at Jan Richardson Images, where my artwork is available for use in worship, education, and contemplation. A subscription provides access to all the images for a year’s time. Click subscribe for info. Also, there’s still a wee bit of time to order my new book for Christmas. (Or perhaps Epiphany!) Visit Sanctuary of Women to order. Inscribed copies are available by request.

Clothed with the Sun

December 18, 2010


Clothed with the Sun © Jan L. Richardson

Soon and very soon, we will contemplate the Gospel reading for Christmas Eve. In this text from Luke, we will read of the journey of Mary and Joseph and of the birth of Jesus in a manger; we will read of shepherds and angels and glory. At the last, we will catch sight of the contemplative Mary. It is the briefest glimpse: “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Tucked into the very end of the text, it nearly eludes our notice. Yet more and more I find myself thinking that the heart of this story lies here, in the way that Mary gathers up all the pieces of the story and holds them within herself.

But not yet, not quite; a day or two still before we turn to this tale of glory that gives way to a space of stillness. For now, let us open a different window onto Mary.

In the book of Revelation, in chapter 12, John tells of a vision of a celestial woman who labors to give birth to a child as a dragon waits, intent upon destroying the child. Across the centuries, many interpreters have viewed this as an image of Mary. While the text itself does not confirm this, the story of the sun-garbed woman struggling to give birth certainly resonates with the tale of the mother of Christ. And so, on this Advent night, I offer this image that emerged as I contemplated this passage many years ago, along with this reflection and poem:

Clothed with the Sun

A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birthpangs, in the agony of giving birth. —Revelation 12.1-2

It took three tries to begin to do her justice. In the first rendering, she wore a dress with a golden sun on it and looked very static. I read the story again and realized what is really says: that she was clothed with the sun, not with a sunny dress. So the second try had her swathed in the sun itself, with rays etched in gold wrapped around her body.

When I looked at the piece months later, I realized that the gold on the bottom layers of paper had soaked through the upper pieces. It looked unfixable. No matter; I realized I didn’t like it so much anyway.

When I returned home from a trip to Toronto with some fabulous gold paper from the Japanese paper shop there I realized it was for her and went, literally, back to the drawing board. As this dark-skinned, dark-haired woman began to emerge, I remembered a poem by Joy Harjo. “Early Morning Woman” tells of a woman stretching in the new day’s sun, moving with the strength of the child who grows in her belly. I had used the poem in my first book, in the section about this celestial woman who moves in the agony and hope of birth. Now the early morning woman took shape before me, dazzling in her luminous garb.

I always return to her, to the terror of her birthing and the force of her loving. In this Advent season, this sun-garbed woman, in labor as a dragon waits to devour her child, reminds me that the cave of the heart is not a place of escape. It is a place to wrestle with those personal dragons that emerge only when we slow down, a place to struggle with those parts of ourselves we hesitate to confront and which we sometimes stifle with too much work or too much play or too many possessions or with substances that dull the ache we cannot name. This struggle is integral to preparing for the labor; it is part of the labor itself. Hiding from myself won’t sustain me through the travail, and being merely nice won’t give me strength for the birthing, and my silence won’t protect what I bring forth from that which seeks to destroy it.

Sun Woman Speaks

When it was all over
they asked me for a charm
for banishing dragons.

I said
look them in the eye
and call them by name.
It makes them mad as hell,
but they can’t abide
the knowing
of their name.

[Art, reflection, and poem are from “Advent: The Cave of the Heart” in the book In Wisdom’s Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season © Jan L. Richardson.]

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

An Angel Named Thelma

December 17, 2010


An Angel Named Thelma © Jan L. Richardson

As I shared recently on my blog over at Sanctuary of Women, my book Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas is, happily, in the process of going through a new printing. Unhappily, owing to massive problems with the printer, this Advent-and-Christmas book won’t arrive until sometime in January.

Talk about Advent waiting . . .

Amidst the anticipation, it seems fitting to share a few pieces from Night Visions while we’re still actually in Advent. And, at this point in the season, I think we could do with a visit from Thelma, an angel who makes her appearance among the pages of this book. Here are the reflection and blessing that accompany her. May she offer you some inspiration and spunky company in these days.

An Angel Named Thelma

She hangs on my wall: a heat-painted bronze angel, hands clasped in prayer as she hovers over a crescent moon. The day I moved here, I placed her at the doorway to the family room, the action my unspoken house blessing. She watches the threshold.

When I found her in Atlanta and brought her to my home there, I showed her to some friends who’d stopped in. “She needs a home,” I said. “Thelma!” Sandra immediately offered, then instantly regretted it. “No,” I said. “That’s perfect!” Thelma. I thought of the Thelmas I had known (both of them). Thelmas were solid, immovable, stalwart, a little wild. They could tell stories to raise the hair on the back of your neck. They weren’t afraid of aging; the years rooted them, grounded them, widened their vision as well as their girth. They could spit.

An angel named Thelma is not your average angel. She most definitely is not among the current rage of angels depicted as ephemeral, fragile, benign beings who look like they wouldn’t hurt a flea. She hangs out with the sorts of angels we find in the Bible. Hardly benign, these angels were messengers of harsh news and bearers of surprising invitations. They might come with comfort, but they always came with a cost.

An angel named Thelma is what I need in this season: an uppity angel at my shoulder. Someone who can breathe fire. Who will remind me that being nice won’t sustain me through the labor. Who will cry out with me in the birth pangs. Who will dispatch the dragon who waits to devour what is struggling to be born.

Prayer

BLESS THEM

who wait with us
who labor with us
who cry out with us

BLESS THEM

who know our limits
who push us beyond them
who see us through

BLESS THEM

who call us to our strengths
who tend us in our weakness
who dress each ragged wound

BLESS THEM

who laugh in the face of convention
who weep for our own pain
who bid us come and live.

[Reflection and prayer from Night Visions © Jan L. Richardson.]

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: The Art of Blessing

December 11, 2010


The Hour of Lauds: Visitation © Jan L. Richardson

Canticle for Advent 3 (alternate reading): Luke 1.46-55

Two nights ago we gathered for the Wellspring service, the contemplative worship gathering that Gary and I offer each month. On that Advent night, in that quiet and prayer-soaked chapel, our primary text was Luke 1.39-56, in which we find the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and of the song that Mary pours forth when Elizabeth welcomes and blesses her. This song, which we have come to know as the Magnificat, is our canticle for this third Sunday of Advent.

At the service, during our time for conversation (because, at Wellspring, the act of proclamation is not solely the work of one person), we spoke of how Mary’s song—this song of how God turns the world right side up—comes from Elizabeth’s blessing of her: how Elizabeth’s words seem to release the song, set it loose from Mary’s lips and from her very soul. We spoke of the intimacy of this story, how it is in their meeting, kinswoman to kinswoman, that the blessing and the singing take place. We spoke of how blessing takes place in community, how it depends upon community, how it takes being in community to offer and receive the blessings that will enable us to proclaim the song that God has placed within us. We spoke of how sometimes the best way to receive a deeply needed blessing is to offer a blessing ourselves. And we spoke, too, of how there are times when God calls us—challenges us—to simply receive a blessing that is meant for us, without feeling compelled to respond in turn.

This intimate scene, this exchange between these two woman who find themselves in a stunning intersection of heaven and earth, is the stage by which Luke describes how God transforms the world. And it rests, in large measure, upon the act of blessing: one woman laying her hands upon another and speaking words that penetrate whatever anxiety and uncertainty may be present in Mary as she sets into a wild and uncharted terrain.

Later, after the service, the power of Elizabeth’s blessing, and what it unleashed, lingered with me. I picked up John O’Donohue’s book To Bless the Space Between Us and turned once again to his brilliant essay at the end of the book, “To Retrieve the Lost Art of Blessing.” Here he writes,

We never see the script of our lives; nor do we know what is coming toward us, or why our life takes on this particular shape or sequence. A blessing is different from a greeting, a hug, a salute, or an affirmation; it opens a different door in human encounter. One enters into the forecourt of the soul, the source of intimacy and the compass of destiny.

Our longing for the eternal kindles our imagination to bless. Regardless of how we configure the eternal, the human heart continues to dream of a state of wholeness, a place where everything comes together, where loss will be made good, where blindness will transform into vision, where damage will be made whole, where the clenched question will open in the house of surprise, where the travails of life’s journey will enjoy a homecoming. To invoke a blessing is to call some of that wholeness upon a person now.

This wholeness is intended not just for the one who receives it;  it is linked with the wholeness of the whole world.

“Blessed is she who believed,” Elizabeth the Blesser cried out.

“God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,” Mary the Blessed sings in response, “and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things . . .”

O’Donohue writes this, too:

Who has the power to bless? This question is not to be answered simply by the description of one’s institutional status or membership. But perhaps there are deeper questions hidden here: What do you bless with? Or where do you bless from? When you bless another, you first gather yourself; you reach below your surface mind and personality, down to the deeper source within you—namely, the soul. Blessing is from soul to soul.

In this Advent season, how will you use the power you have to bless? How might God be calling you to offer a blessing—or to receive one?

From my soul to yours and back again: blessings.

[For previous reflections on the Magnificat, visit Door 11: In Which We Get to Sing and Door 14: Remembering Forward.]

[To use the “Visitation” 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: 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!]