Christmas Day: Shines in the Darkness

December 25, 2012 by Jan Richardson

Image: Shines in the Darkness © Jan L. Richardson

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

Throughout this season, Gary and I have been leading an online Advent retreat and have loved traveling through these days in the company of folks from around the world. This is the reflection we are sharing with them for Christmas Day.

When I think of my artistic ancestors—the creative people whose lives and work have inspired and informed my own—I trace my lineage back to the Middle Ages. My artful family tree includes the medieval monks and nuns who labored at their desks with paint and ink, working by hand to create sacred books: gospel-books, prayer books, Psalters. I think of scribes who traced each letter upon the vellum, artists who saturated pages with their pigments, so often adding the shimmering gold that would give rise to the name for such manuscripts: illuminated.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Many illuminated manuscripts required months or years to create, involving what might strike us as a staggering amount of time and expense. We may wonder at why these books warranted such extravagance, when they could have been fashioned more simply. Yet for the artist and scribe, creating an illuminated manuscript often became a lavish act of devotion, a fitting response to the God who created us and came among us with such extravagant love.

What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.

I am continually enchanted and inspired by the artists and scribes who poured themselves out in creating these luminous books that became a form of prayer, of proclamation, of sacrament. These artful ancestors understood how a book could become what the Celtic tradition has called a thin place—a space where heaven and earth meet, and we recognize more clearly the presence of the God who is always present to us.

The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

Although my work looks little like that of the medieval artists and scribes, their devotion inspires and, I pray, infuses the pages I create in paper and in cyberspace. In their illuminated intertwining of Word and image and light and prayer, I find an invitation and a challenge for my own creative work: that it may be a place of such intertwining, that it may be a space where heaven and earth meet, that it may be a way the Word  takes flesh in me and shines through me.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory . . .
full of grace and truth.

As we cross into Christmas Day, where do you see the Word taking flesh in this world? How does the Word take flesh in you, become light shining through you? Who are your sources of inspiration as you open yourself to this? Are you listening for where and how Christ might be seeking to take form in you, to bring life to you, to illuminate you?

This day, may Christ the Word speak anew in your life, and may Christ our Light illumine your way. Merry Christmas!

P.S. For a previous reflection for Christmas Day (including the Christmas blessing “How the Light Comes”), click the image or title below:

And the Darkness Did Not Overcome It

Christmas Day: How the Light Comes

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

Advent 4: For Joy

December 20, 2012 by Jan Richardson

Image: For Joy © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 4, Year C: Luke 1.39-45

“For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting,
the child in my womb leaped for joy.”

—Luke 1.44

For Joy

You can prepare
but still
it will come to you
by surprise

crossing through your doorway
calling your name in greeting
turning like a child
who quickens suddenly
within you

it will astonish you
how wide your heart
will open
in welcome

for the joy
that finds you
so ready
and still so

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

Advent 4: The Sanctuary They Make in Meeting

Last year I created a blessing for the Winter Solstice that has found its way into lots of Longest Night/Blue Christmas services. To visit this blessing, click this image or title:

Winter Solstice: Blessing for the Longest Night

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

Advent 3: With the Spirit and Fire

December 16, 2012 by Jan Richardson

Image: With the Spirit and Fire © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Advent 3, Year C: Luke 3.7-18

Nearly all my creative energy this week has gone toward the online retreat that Gary and I are leading during this Advent season. We’re having a wondrous time with the folks who are participating in the retreat from around the world. Although I wasn’t able to write a blog reflection this week, I do have a new image, and I hope, even so late in the week, it will offer a blessing for your Advent path.

I also have a previous reflection on this week’s gospel reading; click the image or title below.

Blessings to you in these Advent days, and may the Spirit enliven you and illumine your way.

Advent 3: Terrors and Wonders

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

Advent 2: Prepare

December 5, 2012 by Jan Richardson

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 by Jan Richardson

Drawing Near © Jan L. 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.

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!]

Almost Advent

November 20, 2012 by Jan Richardson

It’s almost Advent! As we prepare to cross into the coming season, I am especially excited about what Advent holds in store this time around. At the top of my list of things that are inducing Advent excitement is the online Advent retreat that Gary and I will be offering. Here’s the skinny:

ILLUMINATED: An Online Journey into the Heart of Christmas
December 1-29

Travel toward Christmas in the company of folks who want to move through this season with mindfulness and grace. This online retreat is not about adding one more thing to your holiday schedule. It is about helping you find spaces for reflection that draw you deep into this season that shimmers with mystery and possibility. This retreat offers a space of elegant simplicity, much like the one created in my Advent book Night Visions. Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, this four-week online retreat provides a distinctive opportunity to travel through Advent and Christmas in contemplation and conversation with others along the way.

This is an Advent retreat for people who don’t have time for an Advent retreat (and for those who do!) You don’t have to show up at a particular place or time, and you’re welcome to engage the retreat as much or as little as you wish. You can do this retreat in your jammies!

We’re excited that the retreat is already drawing folks from around the world. We’d love for you to be among them. For more info about the retreat, visit Illuminated Advent Retreat.

I have a few other treats and treasures designed especially for your Advent journey:

GIFTS FOR THE JOURNEY: My main website,, has lots of offerings that I’ve designed especially for your journey toward Christmas. You’ll find my books Night Visions and Through the Advent Door, greeting cards, and art prints. Great gifts for yourself and for others in this season. Open all hours; please stop by!

IMAGES ONLINE: Jan Richardson Images enables churches and other communities to use my artwork in worship, education, and other settings. Single images are available, or you can sign up for an annual subscription, which gives you unlimited downloads for a year. During Advent and Christmas, I’m offering a festive discount on annual subscriptions: for just $125, you can sign up for an artful year (regularly $165). The site offers many images for Advent, Christmas, and beyond. Visit Subscribe to Jan Richardson Images to sign up. You can also order any of the images as an art print.

NEW CD FROM GARRISON DOLES: My husband’s latest CD is hot off the press, and it’s amazing! Songmaker’s Christmas offers a stunning collection of twelve of Gary’s original songs for Christmas. Soulful and gorgeous and wise, these songs will open your ears and your heart anew to the stories of this season. Visit the CD page on Gary’s website to listen to song samples and place orders.

As we enter into Advent, I wish you many blessings and a wondrous journey.

P.S. If you’d like to receive these Advent Door blog posts via email, check out the “Subscribe by email” box in the sidebar (near the top, just above the cover for the Through the Advent Door eBook).

Entering Epiphany

January 5, 2012 by Jan Richardson

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!]

Christmas Day: How the Light Comes

December 21, 2011 by Jan Richardson

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 by Jan Richardson

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 by Jan Richardson

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!