Archive for the ‘sacred time’ Category

Entering Epiphany

January 5, 2012

Epiphany © Jan L. Richardson

With Advent always being such an intense time, it comes as a gift and a relief that Christmas is not over on December 25. Brief though it may be, with just twelve days, the Christmas season offers a lovely opportunity to linger with the Christmas story and to take a deep breath before diving into the year ahead.

Christmas ends, of course, with the celebration of Epiphany on January 6. It’s Epiphany Eve as I write this, and I wanted to offer this final post for this season of The Advent Door and wish you a blessed Epiphany. Thank you for journeying with me through Advent and Christmas this year. It is always a gift to have your company on the path through these days.

I would be delighted to continue to have your company as I return to my blog The Painted Prayerbook, where I’ll be offering new reflections and art throughout the coming year. I have a new post in celebration of Epiphany and hope you’ll visit; you can find it here:

Epiphany: Blessing for Those Who Have Far to Travel

There’s also a wonderful tradition, rooted in Ireland, of celebrating Epiphany as Women’s Christmas. In honor of the occasion, I’ve posted a reflection at my Sanctuary of Women blog. The reflection includes a link to a special mini-retreat that I’ve designed for you to use for Women’s Christmas—or whenever you’re in need of a break! You can download the retreat as a PDF (at no cost), and I’m happy for you to share it with friends. The retreat, which includes reflections and artwork, can be engaged in a single day or spread out over a number of days. You might select a reflection or two for conversation over a cuppa with friends on Women’s Christmas! Click the image or title below to visit the Women’s Christmas post.

Celebrating Women’s Christmas

Thank you again for walking through The Advent Door with me. I look forward to returning when Advent approaches again. Until then, I hope to cross paths with you at The Painted Prayerbook. Merry Epiphany to you, and a Happy New Year!

[To use the “Epiphany” 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!]

Feast Day and Other Advent News

December 12, 2011

The Day of the Lady © Jan L. Richardson

Happy Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe! Today is an occasion to celebrate Mary in her aspect as “La Virgen Morena” (The Brown-skinned Virgin) who appeared to Juan Diego in Mexico in the sixteenth century and became beloved as the Patroness of the Americas. I have a reflection on Our Lady of Guadalupe and invite you to visit it during this day of celebration: The Day of the Lady.

We have passed the halfway point of the Advent season. How is your Advent path unfolding? I’m finding this a good occasion to stop and take a deep breath. I invite you to join me in taking some time to look back at the season past and to do some dreaming about the days that lie ahead. As you reflect on the season so far, what do you notice? As you contemplate the time between now and Christmas, what do you hope for? What might you need to do—or not do—in order to have the season and the Christmas Day you desire?

As we take a deep Advent breath together, I have a few things on my mind that I want to share with you.

BLOG SUBSCRIPTIONS: At the beginning of the season, I added an option in the sidebar that enables folks to subscribe to The Advent Door and receive these blog posts via email. I used Feedburner to set this up and subsequently found there were a couple of problems with the way that Feedburner manages emails, the most troublesome being that for some folks, depending on your email host, the blog post is squashed together in a continuous block of text, with no breaks for paragraphs or poems, which has a big impact on readability. I’m happy to say that my blog service now offers email subscriptions (they began doing this just days after I had set things up with Feedburner-!), and they seem to handle the formatting splendidly. I have switched over to their subscription service.

I am grateful to everyone who has signed up to receive these Advent reflections by email. If you signed up before last Thursday afternoon (December 8), you signed up via Feedburner, and I would like to move you over to the new subscription service. If you would simply sign up again, using the new sign-up form at The Advent Door (near the top of the sidebar), that would be great. Once you’ve done this, I’ll delete your address from the Feedburner list and will close out that account once everyone has switched over. I’m sorry for the minor hassle but really appreciate your taking a moment to do this so that I can serve you better.

And if you haven’t signed up to receive these reflections by email, I’d be delighted for you to do so!

BOOKS: It’s not too late to order books for Advent and Christmas! I have some copies of my book Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas still available and would be pleased to send them your way. My new eBook, Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas, is available on Amazon as a Kindle book. You don’t have to have a Kindle e-reader in order to enjoy the book; you can download a Kindle app to your iPad, iPhone, computer, etc. It’s been great to hear from folks who have done this in order to read this book. And my book In the Sanctuary of Women, just published last year, makes a good gift for yourself and others. For more info on all these books and to place an order, visit the Books page on my main website.

AN ARTFUL YEAR: During this season I’m offering a festive discount at my website Jan Richardson Images, which makes my artwork available for use in worship, education, and other settings. Through Epiphany Day (January 6), an annual subscription (which gives you unlimited downloads) is 125 smackeroos (normally $165). Visit subscribe to check it out. (Single images are always available as well.)

ART PRINTS: All the images at Jan Richardson Images—including the artwork from The Advent Door, my blog The Painted Prayerbook, and my books—are available as art prints. There’s still time to ship prints for Christmas! Once you’re on the images website, go to any image you’d like and scroll down to “Prints & Products” to place an order.

GRATITUDE: I am tremendously thankful for the opportunity to journey with you in this season. Thank you for your presence, your emails and comments, and your prayers. Thanks also to those who have supported the ministry of The Advent Door by linking to it through your blog, website, Facebook and other social media, or in print or by word of mouth (the original social media!). I am grateful as well to those who have sent a financial contribution, becoming patrons of my ministry through The Advent Door and beyond. For all the ways that you share in and sustain this ministry, I thank you. Know that I am praying for you in this season and beyond.

Blessings to you!

Advent 1: In Which We Stay Awake

November 24, 2011

The Luminous Night © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 1, Year B: Mark 13.24-37

“Shall I make a pot of coffee?” Gary asked me late last night—much too late last night—as I was burning the after-midnight oil, trying to finish everything on my list before leaving for the Thanksgiving holiday. He knows I don’t drink coffee (though I love the smell); it was his way of asking if I really planned on being up all night. At that point I was wrestling with technology that had chosen the worst moment to break down, and I could probably have stayed up till dawn trying to fix it, but finally I shut everything down for the night, left my studio, and went to bed. Where I then lay awake until the wee hours, as sometimes happens when I have worked too long and too late.

As I lay there, willing myself toward sleep, the Gospel reading for this Sunday floated through my insomniac brain (this blog post being another thing I didn’t manage to finish before I left). It was not lost on me, alert in the small hours, how Advent always begins with a word about wakefulness. “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come,” Jesus says in this passage about the end of days that, along with its parallels in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels, is known as the “Little Apocalypse.” “…And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

It’s a different kind of wakefulness, of course, that Jesus is talking about here as he tells his hearers how to recognize the signs of his returning. The wakefulness that Jesus describes is a state—a practice, a way of being—that bears little resemblance to the ways we usually try to keep ourselves (or unwittingly find ourselves) awake, methods that usually leave us jangly-nerved and less than fully functional.

Jesus urges us toward a kind of awareness in which, whatever else we are doing—even in resting and sleeping—some part of us remains open, stays alert, pays attention to what is unfolding and reflects on what it means. Jesus is talking here about cultivating the habit of keeping vigil: the art of waiting. He is describing a kind of awareness and attention in which we learn to not rely solely on what we can see (“the sun will be darkened,” Jesus says, “and the moon will not give its light.”) but turn to the wisdom of the other senses, to discern what they can tell us about what is unfolding in the world around us.

Contemplating this Gospel reading, I thought of this collage (above) that I created during Advent last year. It’s not even a full-blown collage, but one scrap among many that were on my drafting table in that season. I used it in a reflection here about finding myself in a stuck place in the studio. I realized that I had arrived at one of those threshold times that happens in the creative process, when something new is trying to work itself out but is taking its sweet time to make itself known. Like any birth, it tends to be messy. It is a kind of mini-apocalypse in which our familiar landmarks disappear, our sources of illumination go dim, our familiar ways of working no longer work.

It can be daunting to stay soul-awake when these mini-apocalypses come along, whether in the creative process or in life itself, which is its own creative art. It can grow wearying to persist in showing up to what is messy, to what is frustrating, to what lies in shadow, to what seems like it isn’t going anywhere. Yet as Mark’s Gospel reminds us here at the threshold of Advent, such times call us to trust that even in the dark, God is at work, is traveling toward us, has somehow already arrived.

As we enter into Advent, what draws you into the kind of awareness that Jesus describes? How do you enter into a waking that doesn’t depend on stimulants but that calls the deepest layers of our soul to keep a space ready, to pay attention, to turn all our senses toward perceiving where Christ may show up? How do you keep vigil and practice the art of waiting?

Blessing for Waking

This blessing could
pound on your door
in the middle of
the night.

This blessing could
bang on your window,
could tap dance
in your hall,
could set a dog loose
in your room.

It could hire a
brass band
to play outside
your house.

But what this blessing
really wants
is not merely
your waking
but your company.

This blessing
wants to sit
alongside you
and keep vigil
with you.

This blessing
wishes to wait
with you.

And so
though it is capable
of causing a cacophony
that could raise
the dead,

this blessing
will simply
lean toward you
and sing quietly
in your ear
a song to lull you
not into sleep
but into waking.

It will tell you stories
that hold you breathless
till the end.

It will ask you questions
you never considered
and have you tell it
what you saw
in your dreaming.

This blessing
will do all within
its power
to entice you
into awareness

because it wants
to be there,
to bear witness,
to see the look
in your eyes
on the day when
your vigil is complete
and all your waiting
has come to
its joyous end.

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving to those celebrating the holiday today! For a brief morsel of a reflection from a previous year, see On the Occasion of Thanksgiving… And for an earlier reflection on this Sunday’s Gospel reading, visit Through the Door.

Night Visions Ready for You!

November 3, 2011

Advent is just a few weeks away! I’ve been planning and plotting some Advent and Christmas treats for you in my studio and am eagerly looking forward to opening The Advent Door again and traveling with you through another holiday season (this will be the fifth year of The Advent Door!). As we prepare, I want to let you know that my book Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas is back in print! I’m grateful to everyone who’s ever written to tell me they return to Night Visions each year, and to ask when the book would be available again because they want to buy copies as gifts for friends or colleagues, or another copy for themselves because they keep giving theirs away. The words I have received about the book are such a gift to me.

I am thrilled to be able to say the book is finally available now and is just waiting for you, whether you’re a longtime friend of Night Visions or meeting it for the first time. With my original artwork, reflections, poetry, and prayers, the book accompanies the reader through the weeks of Advent to Christmas and Epiphany Day. I’ve heard from many folks who have used it in groups—book clubs, Bible studies, retreats, and other gatherings—as well as for personal reading.

You can learn more, view sample pages, and order the book by visiting the Books page at Inscribed copies are available by request.

Blessings to you as Advent approaches!

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:


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?


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 Your use of helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]

Winter Solstice: The Moon Is Always Whole

December 20, 2010

Winter Solstice © Jan L. Richardson

As you may already know, the wee hours of tonight will hold a rare event: for the first time in nearly 400 years, a total lunar eclipse will occur on the Winter Solstice. In a thoughtful reflection marking the event, Ron at the Grünewald Guild’s Scriptorium comments that “The last time this occurred Galileo himself likely watched the phenomenon . . . perhaps from a window in his villa” where he was under house arrest.

To celebrate the occurrence, here’s a lunar reflection from Night Visions. It holds a tale of a full moon that I saw long ago in another land. As we move through the longest night of the year and cross back into the bright half of the calendar, what wholeness might lie in the shadows of your life, waiting to reveal itself?

The Moon Is Always Whole

I walk with Kary under a full moon on the grounds of the only castle in New Zealand. Under its light I tell her about a Barbara Kingsolver poem I have recently come across: “Remember the Moon Survives.” It does, Kingsolver writes. Around the encroaching darkness the moon bends herself, curls herself and waits. Against the waxing and waning shadow, she writes, the moon is always whole.

Kary asks me if I believe this, believe in the constant wholeness of the moon. I think about the year past, about the rising and falling tide of sorrow that has played on my shores. I think of how I embraced the opportunity for a trip to another land and the possibility for respite it would provide. But the tides run in this Southern Hemisphere as well, and I am dismayed by the flow of memory that pulls me even here. I had thought to leave your shadow across the ocean.

But here, beneath the full moon, I tell Kary yes. Yes, the moon survives. Beneath the ebb and flow of darkness it is waiting. I have seen it whole.


God of the two lights,
I love the sun,
its revealing brilliance,
its lingering warmth;
but in the dark of night,
let me learn
the wisdom of the moon,
how it waxes and wanes
but does not die,
how it gives itself
to shadow,
knowing it will emerge whole
once more.

[Reflection and prayer from Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas © Jan L. Richardson.]

For other solstice reflections, visit  Solstice: A Woman in Winter at my Sanctuary of Women blog and Festival of Lights here at The Advent Door.

[To use the “Winter Solstice” image, please visit this page at Your use of 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.