It Is Hard Being Wedded to the Dead

October 24, 2014

River of LifeImage: River of Life © Jan Richardson

A Reading for All Saints Day: Revelation 7.9-17

The Lamb…will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
– Revelation 7.17

For many years, I have loved the days of Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls. This trinity of days from October 31-November 2 is a sacred space in the turning of the year—what Celtic folk have long called a thin place, where past, present, and future intertwine, and the veil between worlds becomes permeable. I learned long ago that it’s important to pay attention to what happens in these days. Mostly what happens is that the days offer a window onto my life—a perspective that, however subtly, shifts how I see my path. But sometimes these days offer a doorway, a new threshold that changes everything.

Gary and I began dating on Halloween, the eve of All Saints. As our life together unfolded, the sense of crossing a sacred threshold with him, of walking together through a door of mystery, wonder, and love, never disappeared.

It seems beyond belief that this year, when our church celebrates All Saints Day, Gary’s name will be among those read in the litany of remembrance; that, as for each of the beloved ones who have died in the past year, a bell will sound for my husband, who has crossed a threshold that is beyond my reach. Yet the Feast of All Saints assures us that even here, in the depth of our grief and loss, there is a doorway, a place where the worlds touch.

As I approach this first All Saints Day since Gary’s death, I am pressing my ear to that door. In the depth of my sorrow, I am learning that Gary and I still have thresholds to cross; that mystery and wonder abide, drawing us more and more deeply into the love that has little regard for matters such as death and time.

This is a poem that came in the early days of grieving, as I was first beginning to reckon with Gary’s dying and with the love that has kept making itself known. I offer it to you as an All Saints gift, a talisman to hold onto as you remember your own beloved ones. May our love be more fierce than our grief, more enduring than our tears. Blessings.

It Is Hard Being Wedded to the Dead

It is hard
being wedded
to the dead;
they make different claims,
offer comforts
that do not feel comfortable
at the first.

They do not let you
remain numb.
Neither do they allow you
to languish forever
in your grief.

They will safeguard
your sorrow
but will not permit
that it should become
your new country,
your home.

They knew you first
in joy,
in delight,
and though they will be patient
when you travel
by other roads,
it is here
that they will wait
for you,
here they can best
be found

where the river runs deep
with gladness,
the water over each stone
singing your
unforgotten name.

– Jan Richardson


For a previous reflection on All Saints, click the image or title below.

A Gathering of Spirits
For Those Who Walked With Us

An Advent Journey…

ILLUMINATED 2014 — Registration now open!
Are you hungry for an experience that draws you into Advent without feeling like it’s just one more thing to add to your schedule? I would love for you to join us for this all-new online retreat that easily fits into the rhythm of your days. Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, ILLUMINATED 2014 will be a great way to journey toward Christmas from anywhere you are, in the way that fits you best. Begins November 30. For info and registration, visit ILLUMINATED 2014. Group & congregational rates available.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “River of Life,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

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

Love Is the Most Ancient Law

October 23, 2014

Love Is the Most Ancient LawImage: Love Is the Most Ancient Law © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Year A, Proper 25/Ordinary 30/Pentecost +20: Matthew 22.34-46

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with
all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
This is the greatest and first commandment.”
– Matthew 22.37-38

Love Is the Most Ancient Law
A Blessing

Open to it
and you will know
how love is
its own blessing
and most ancient
of laws.

Pursue it
entirely
with everything
in you—
your heart
(all)
your soul
(all)
your mind
(all).

Spend it
all—
this love
so generous
this love
that goes out
to each
it finds
this love
that gives itself
in lavish and
unimagined measure
everywhere and
to all—

yourself
not least.


For previous reflections on this gospel passage, visit Crossing the Country, Thinking of Love and Heart of the Matter.

Now open!

ILLUMINATED 2014 — Registration now open!
Are you hungry for an experience that draws you into Advent without feeling like it’s just one more thing to add to your schedule? I would love for you to join us for this all-new online retreat that easily fits into the rhythm of your days. Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, ILLUMINATED 2014 will be a great way to journey toward Christmas from anywhere you are, in the way that fits you best. Begins November 30. For info and registration, visit ILLUMINATED 2014. Group & congregational rates available.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Love Is the Most Ancient Law,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

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

Show Me Your Glory

October 13, 2014

Show Me Your GloryImage: Show Me Your Glory  © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, Year A, Proper 24/Ordinary 29/Pentecost +19: Exodus 33.12-23

Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.”
…And the Lord [said]…While my glory passes by I will put you
in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until
I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you
shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

– Exodus 33.18, 21-23

What tugs most at my imagination in this story is not the vision of glory that God gives to Moses but rather the place where God hides him. To enable Moses to abide the seeing, God places him in a cleft of the rock. Cleft: a space made by cleaving. Standing with Moses, watching God’s brilliant back fade into the distance, it is easy to feel the resonance of both senses of that paradoxical word cleave: how it can mean to cling as well as to rend.

We know that cleft, that cleaving, in our own selves. We know what it is like to feel hollow and torn in those times when it seems like God is walking away from us, the aching distance increasing with every step. It is in that same inexplicable moment that God reveals God’s own self to us, dissolving the distance, becoming bound to us all over again.

How will we abide what God reveals to us—and what God chooses to conceal? What helps us persist in turning toward God even when God hides God’s face from us? Where do you find the clefts in your own life—those places that break your heart open even as you become whole? What do you see and know of God there?

In the Cleaving
A Blessing

Believe me,
I know how
this blessing looks:
like it is
leaving you,
like it is
walking away
while you stand there,
feeling the press
of every sharp edge,
every jagged corner
in this fearsome hollow
that holds you.

I know how hard it is
to abide this blessing
when some part of it
remains always hidden
from view
even as it sees you
from every angle,
inhabits your
entire being,
calls you
by your name.

I know the ache
of vision that comes
in such fragments,
the terrible wonder
of glory that arrives
but in glimpses.

So I am not here
to make excuses
for this blessing,
for how it turns
its face from us
when we need
to see it most.

But I want to believe
it will always
find its way to us
when we are in the place
made by cleaving—
the space left
by what is torn apart
even as it is joined
in the fierce union
that comes only
in the fissure.

I want to be unafraid
to turn toward
this blessing
that binds itself to us
even in the rending;
this blessing
that unhinges us
even as it
makes us whole.


For a reflection on this week’s gospel reading, click the image or title below.

Taxing Questions
Taxing Questions

Looking ahead…

Illuminated Retreat

ILLUMINATED 2014 coming soon! I am excited about the all-new online retreat I’ll offer for Advent. Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, ILLUMINATED 2014 will be a great way to journey toward Christmas from anywhere you are, in the way that fits you best. The retreat will begin on November 30, and I would love for you to join us. Registration and more info coming soon. Group & congregational rates available.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Show Me Your Glory,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

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

About the Enfolding

October 8, 2014

Getting Garbed-detailImage: Getting Garbed (detail)  © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Year A, Proper 23/Ordinary 28/Pentecost +18: Matthew 22.1-14

Table by table, I have made my way from Florida to Toronto. I am thankful beyond measure for the hospitality and solace I have received on this adventure. For those who don’t know, I am nearly two weeks into a big road trip; this is part of how I am listening my way into the life that’s unfolding in the wake of Gary’s dying.

This week’s gospel lection brings us to a curious parable that prompts questions about hospitality, heaven, and God’s own table. I have written previously about this passage and invite you to visit that post (the link is below). You can imagine that this reflection, written as Gary and I were looking toward our wedding, is bittersweet to me now. Yet the experience of our wedding celebration and our life together shapes how I look at this week’s passage about the wedding banquet—a passage that stirs questions about how I am seeking the enfolding of God on my path, even as I wrestle with what faith looks like in the midst of stunning grief.

By way of a blessing, I want to offer you a prayer that I wrote for my book Night Visions. This day and every day, may you know yourself enfolded by the love of the God who calls us to the feast.

Blessing

In your mercy
clothe me

in your protection
cloak me

in your care
enfold me

in your grace
array me.

With your justice
dress me

for your labor
garb me

by your love
envelop me

and fit me
for your work.

The blessing is from Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas.


For a previous reflection on the gospel reading, click the image or title below.

Getting Garbed
Getting Garbed

(And for a follow-up in which I reveal that my wedding anxiety dreams did not, in fact, prove prophetic, see the post Fitted for the Wedding Feast.)

Looking ahead…

Illuminated Retreat

ILLUMINATED 2014 coming soon! I am looking forward to offering an all-new online retreat for Advent. Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, ILLUMINATED 2014 will be a great way to journey through Advent from anywhere you are, in the way that fits you best. The retreat will begin on November 30, and I would love for you to join us. Registration and more info coming soon. Group & congregational rates available.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Getting Garbed,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

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

The Solace of Other Tables

September 29, 2014

The Welcome TableImage: The Welcome Table © Jan Richardson

Just a few days ago, I set out on a road trip that will carry me across many miles over the coming weeks. I have found that traveling seems to be some of the medicine my grieving soul most needs at this point, so I have packed up my laptop and art supplies and am giving myself to the road. Although I know some of the geographic locations I am bound for, I know the highway will hold a few mysteries. This is part of its appeal.

One of the most compelling things about taking to the road is that it will bring me to the tables of friends and family. Mealtimes are among the times I miss Gary most. Even as I am grateful for memories of countless meals we shared in the communion of our daily life, his empty space at the table is too stark and raw just now. So when I receive invitations to be with friends and family—like the one from my sister, who has said, on more than one occasion, Come to Toronto, we’ll feed you—I am drawn to go.

In this long and sorrowing season, I am thankful for the solace of other tables, for those spaces of welcome where there is always room for me. With World Communion Sunday coming up this week, I have those inviting tables especially on my mind and wanted to share with you this image I created some years ago. It’s called The Welcome Table and was commissioned by Saint Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, Florida, where I once served as a pastor. Over the course of two years, this large piece of art (about 4 x 6 feet) took shape on the small dining table in the cozy studio apartment where I lived before Gary and I were married. As I created this image over those years, I thought of so many tables I have savored. Those memories are embedded in this image of Christ sharing the table with his friends: a table where, as you can see, there is always a space to welcome one more.

World Communion Sunday reminds us that Christ calls us to a table where the welcome is wide. He offers us a space with bread and wine in abundance to give solace to our sorrow and to stir our joy. Even as Christ invites us to this table, he does not mean for us to linger here forever. He gives us sustenance in order to send us forth, carrying a space of welcome within us, called to offer it to those we meet: one more, and one more, and one more…

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blessing for World Communion Sunday. I called it “And the Table Will Be Wide,” and I posted it with another table image that I titled The Best Supper. I would love to share this blessing and artwork with you; you can find them by clicking the image or title below. As we draw near to World Communion Sunday, may you find welcome and solace at the table, and may you receive the sustenance and joy of the Christ who sends us into a hungering world.

The Best Supper
And the Table Will Be Wide


For a reflection on the Gospel reading for this Sunday, click the image or title below.

Violence in the Vineyard
Violence in the Vineyard


For a blessing for the Feast of Saint Francis (coming up on October 4), click the image or title below.

Even the Sparrow
Blessing the Animals

Looking ahead…

Illuminated Retreat

ILLUMINATED 2014 coming soon! I am looking forward to offering an all-new online retreat for Advent. Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, ILLUMINATED 2014 will be a great way to journey through Advent from anywhere you are, in the way that fits you best. The retreat will begin on November 30, and I would love for you to join us. Registration and more info coming soon. Group & congregational rates available.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “The Welcome Table,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

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

Blessing That Becomes Empty

September 22, 2014

In the EmptyingImage: In the Emptying © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Epistles, Year A, Proper 21/Ordinary 26/Pentecost +16: Philippians 2.1-13

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though
he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited, but emptied himself.

– Philippians 2.5-7a

The hollowing began the moment Gary died. In the weeks that followed, it came as a physical sensation: in the center of my chest, an emptying nearly tangible, a hollowing out of the heart and of the life I had known.

Last week I visited with a friend of mine whose husband died a year and a half before Gary. We spoke of the hollowing. We talked about how there is nothing that will ever fix the emptiness. And we spoke, too, of how the emptiness can become a space that, in one of the mysteries of grief, leaves us more and more open to the receiving of joy.

The hollowing happens. Life will empty us out, whether we will it or not. Yet Paul reminds us this week that we belong to the Christ who freely chose to empty himself: who gave himself completely in a way that, paradoxically, did not diminish him but helped to reveal the fullness of who he was, and is. Encompassed by the Christ who enfolds our emptiness in his own, we become free to choose how we will respond to the emptying. In the emptying that naturally happens in life, as well as in the emptying Christ asks us to seek out and embrace, how will we allow the hollowing to open our hearts to the world we are called to serve in joy and in love?

This is a blessing I wrote during a Lenten season in which part of this passage from Philippians was among the lectionary readings. As you attend to the empty spaces—in your life and in the world—may those spaces open wide to the joy that comes.

Blessing That Becomes Empty
As It Goes

This blessing
keeps nothing
for itself.
You can find it
by following the path
of what it has let go,
of what it has learned
it can live without.

Say this blessing out loud
a few times
and you will hear
the hollow places
within it,
how it echoes
in a way
that gives your voice
back to you
as if you had never
heard it before.

Yet this blessing
would not be mistaken
for any other,
as if,
in its emptying,
it had lost
what makes it
most itself.

It simply desires
to have room enough
to welcome
what comes.

Today,
it’s you.

So come and sit
in this place
made holy
by its hollows.
You think you have
too much to do,
too little time,
too great a weight
of responsibility
that none but you
can carry.

I tell you,
lay it down.
Just for a moment,
if that’s what you
can manage at first.
Five minutes.
Lift up your voice—
in laughter,
in weeping,
it does not matter—
and let it ring against
these spacious walls.

Do this
until you can hear
the spaces within
your own breathing.
Do this
until you can feel
the hollow in your heart
where something
is letting go,
where something
is making way.


For a reflection on this week’s Gospel reading, click the image or link below.

Where God Grows
Where God Grows

Looking ahead…

If you’re planning for World Communion Sunday (October 5), I invite you to visit the post below, which includes my blessing in celebration of the day.

The Best Supper
And the Table Will Be Wide

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “In the Emptying,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

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

The Hardest Blessing

September 9, 2014

ForgivingImage: Forgiving © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Year A, Proper 19/Ordinary 24/Pentecost +14: Matthew 18.21-35

Jesus said to him, “Not seven times,
but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
– Matthew 18.22

As I’ve been pondering this parable of Jesus—one of his most challenging, which is really saying something—I have found myself wondering how many of us have absorbed any of these beliefs about forgiveness:

Forgiveness means excusing or overlooking the harm that has been done to us and saying that everything is okay.

Forgiveness means allowing those who have hurt us to persist in their behavior.

Forgiving requires forgetting what has happened.

Forgiveness is something we can do at will, and always all at once.

If we have absorbed any of these distorted beliefs about forgiveness, it can come as both a shock and a relief to learn that such ideas would be foreign to Jesus. Clearly he expects us—requires us—to forgive. Yet in his teaching about forgiveness, nowhere does Jesus lay upon us the kinds of burdens we have often placed upon ourselves—burdens that can make one of the most difficult spiritual practices nearly impossible.

The heart of forgiveness is not to be found in excusing harm or allowing it to go unchecked. It is to be found, rather, in choosing to say that although our wounds will change us, we will not allow them to forever define us. Forgiveness does not ask us to forget the wrong done to us but instead to resist the ways it seeks to get its poisonous hooks in us. Forgiveness asks us to acknowledge and reckon with the damage so that we will not live forever in its grip.

Sometimes we are given the grace to forgive quickly. Sometimes the grace to forgive takes a long, long time to receive. And so forgiveness often requires practice. It takes choosing to work at it. We might have to chip away at it again and again and again. Seventy-seven times, at least, as Jesus says in this passage.

Forgiveness might well be the hardest blessing we will ever offer—or receive. As with any difficult practice, it’s important to ask not only for the strength we will need for it, but also the grace: the grace that will, as we practice again and again, begin to shimmer through our wounds, drawing us toward the healing and freedom we could hardly have imagined at the outset.

Is there some forgiveness you are being asked to practice? Are there any ideas about forgiveness that you might need to release—or take on—in order to enter this practice? How might it be to ask not only for the strength but also for the grace you need to forgive another—or yourself?

The Hardest Blessing

If we cannot
lay aside the wound
then let us say
it will not always
bind us.

Let us say
the damage
will not eternally
determine our path.

Let us say
the line of our life
will not forever follow
the tearing, the rending
we have borne.

Let us say
that forgiveness
can take some practice,
can take some patience,
can take a long
and struggling time.

Let us say
that to offer
the hardest blessing
we will need
the deepest grace,
that to forgive
the sharpest pain
we will need
the fiercest love,
that to release
the ancient ache
we will need
new strength
for every day.

Let us say
the wound
will not be
our final home;
that through it
runs a road,
a way we would not
have chosen
but on which
we will finally see
forgiveness,
so long practiced,
coming toward us
shining with the joy
so well deserved.


For a previous reflection on this passage, click the image or link below.

Seventy Times Seven
Seventy Times Seven and Nine-Eleven

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Forgiving,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

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

Where Two, Where Three

September 1, 2014

Kinfolk
Image: Kinfolk © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Year A, Proper 18/Ordinary 23/Pentecost +13: Matthew 18.15-20

Five years ago, on Labor Day weekend, the love of my life asked me to marry him. I was on Tybee Island, Georgia, with a group of my girlfriends from seminary who get together every year at this time. Gary had booked a concert in nearby Savannah that same weekend, and my friends and I drove over to see him. The concert hall was already packed when we arrived, but we managed to find a few seats near the back. Halfway through the concert, in front of a few hundred people and these dear friends, Gary jumped off the stage, ran the length of the hall to where we were sitting, and asked me to spend my life with him.

I was with these friends again this Labor Day weekend. In the midst of my sorrow, it was sweet beyond measure to be with this circle of women who hold this memory for me. I was thrilled to learn that one of my friends still had photos on her camera from the morning after the proposal, when they invited Gary over to the Tybee house for a celebratory brunch. (You can see one of those treasured photos below.)

In the wake of Gary’s dying, I cannot say I have become any more clear about what Jesus means when he says, in this week’s gospel reading, “If two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” But I can tell you that when Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them,” I see this circle of friends who have enfolded me in times of deepest joy and keenest sorrow, bearing the presence of Christ in their midst.

Where Two, Where Three
A Blessing

Take my hand
and you will see
how this blessing
finds its way
to us
not as if
we each held
a piece of
its puzzle

but as if
it cannot resist
this space that opens
between us,
this place that is made
where we two meet,
where we three touch,
where we gather

with our eyes
open
with our hearts
open
with our hands
open
one to another

and on our lips
the name of Love,
all the blessing
we need ever
know.


EngagedEngaged


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

For What Binds Us
For What Binds Us

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Kinfolk,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

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

Blessing at the Burning Bush

August 24, 2014

The Burning Bush
Image: The Burning Bush © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, Year A, Proper 17/Ordinary 22/Pentecost +12: Exodus 3.1-15

God called to him out of the bush,
“Moses, Moses!”

And he said, “Here I am.”
– Exodus 3.4

I have recently returned home from Minnesota, where I was on retreat at Saint John’s Abbey with wondrous folks from my community of Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery. At Compline (night prayer) on the opening night of our retreat, we heard these words from the Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict:

What, dear brothers and sisters, is more delightful than this voice of the Lord calling to us?

Delightful is probably not the first word that comes to Moses’ mind on the day that he hears God calling to him from a bush that blazes but is not consumed. Maybe terrifying, Moses thinks. Maybe overwhelming. Moses hides his face, but he does not leave. He does not turn away from the one who speaks to him and knows his name.

Nearly every story in the scriptures seems, in one way or another, to ask us: Will we open our eyes, our ears? What will we do with what we see, with what we hear? How will we bear the terrible delight of the blessing that blazes before us, that burns within us?

Blessing at the Burning Bush

You will have to decide
if you want this—
want the blessing
that comes to you
on an ordinary day
when you are minding
your own path,
bent on the task before you
that you have done
a hundred times,
a thousand.

You will have to choose
for yourself
whether you will attend
to the signs,
whether you will open your eyes
to the searing light, the heat,
whether you will open
your ears, your heart
to the voice
that knows your name,
that tells you this place
where you stand—
this ground so familiar
and therefore unregarded—
is, in fact,
holy.

You will have to discern
whether you have
defenses enough
to rebuff the call,
excuses sufficient
to withstand the pull
of what blazes before you;
whether you will
hide your face,
will turn away
back toward—
what, exactly?

No path from here
could ever be
ordinary again,
could ever become
unstrange to you
whose seeing
has been scorched
beyond all salving.

You will know your path
not by how it shines
before you
but by how it burns
within you,
leaving you whole
as you go from here
blazing with
your inarticulate,
your inescapable
yes.


For reflections on the Gospel reading, click the image or title below.

Blessing Cross
Blessing in the Shape of a Cross

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “The Burning Bush,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

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

Fierce Blessing

August 18, 2014

StreamsOfMercy
Image: Streams of Mercy © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, Year A, Proper 16/Ordinary 21/Pentecost +11: Exodus 1.8-2.10

The story of the Exodus begins in the hearts of the women. The midwives Shiphrah and Puah, the mother of Moses, his sister, the daughter of Pharaoh: without them, no Moses, no Exodus, no freedom.

There is a beautiful resonance between the story of these women and the story of the Canaanite mother whose lively exchange with Jesus we saw last week. Each in her own way is bent on tracing the circle wider. They give themselves, often at great risk, to save the life of another. Clever, creative, and fiercely devoted to those in their care, each woman displays a sacred stubbornness that will forever alter the story of the people of God.

And us? What, and whom, will we choose to be fierce in protecting? How will we give ourselves to help make possible the life and the freedom of another?

Fierce Blessing

Believe me when I say
there is nothing
this blessing would not do
to protect you
to save you
to encompass you.

This blessing
would stand between you
and every danger,
every evil,
every harm
and hurt.

This blessing
would dare
to wade with you
into the waters that come
bearing life.

It would make
a way for you
through the waters that come
threatening death.

I cannot explain
how fierce
this blessing feels
about you
but I can tell you
it has more than pledged
itself to you;
it would lay down
its life for you
and not once
look back in regret
nor go in sorrow
for what it has chosen
to give.

And you—
so deeply blessed,
so utterly encompassed—
what will you save
in turn?

Not because
it is owed
but because
you cannot imagine
failing to pass along
this grace
that casts its circle
so wide,
this love
that flows
so deep
through this perilous
and precious life.


For a reflection on this Sunday’s Gospel reading, click the image or title below.

A Thin Place
The Thin Man

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Streams of Mercy,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

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