The Luminous Night © Jan L. Richardson
In a dark time, the eye begins to see.
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.