Lent 1: Where the Breath Begins

Image: Your Earth © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Lent 1, Year A: Matthew 4.1-11

The Spirit of God breathes everywhere within you, just as in the beginning, filling light place and dark…green earth and dry…. God’s love grows, fullness upon fullness, where you crumble enough to give what is most dear. Your earth.
—Joan Sauro, from Whole Earth Meditation

Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness.
—Matthew 4.1

Just off a highway that runs south of Gainesville, in northern Florida, there is a small community that has one stop sign, a general store, and more cattle than people. I grew up there, a mile from the farm that was started by my great-grandfather and has been in the family for more than a century.

That piece of earth is a place of deep memory for me. Its landscape holds not only my own story but also layers of stories of those who have gone before me and whose stories have become part of mine. It is where, on a bright spring day nearly seven years ago, Gary and I were married. And it is where, just five years later, we buried his ashes.

The farm is part of my earth, my inner terrain. The life I have lived within its landscape has shaped and formed me, and I carry its contours inside me.

The season of Lent calls us into a landscape. Though the imagery of wilderness is dominant in Lent, this is not the primary terrain that this season invites us to enter.

We enter Lent to enter our own earth, to make a pilgrimage into our own terrain. We move into this season to look at our life anew, to consider what has formed us, where we have come from, what we are carrying within us. Lent invites us to look at the layers that inhabit us: our stories and memories, our imaginings and dreams. This season invites us to notice what in our life feels fallow or empty, where there is growth and greenness, what sources of sustenance lie within us, where we find our inner earth crumbling to reveal something new.

Lent opens our own terrain to us, that we might meet anew the God who lives in every layer of our life.

As this season begins, how might God be inviting you into the landscape that inhabits you? Is there a space within your soul that needs your attention, your compassion, your prayer? How might it be to open that space to the presence of Christ, who knows what it means to enter a difficult terrain, and who found sustenance and angels even there?

Deep peace to you as we enter into the landscape Lent offers us. May it be a place where you can breathe deeply.

Where the Breath Begins

and dry
and dry
in each direction.

Dust dry.
Desert dry.
Bone dry.

And here
in your own heart:
the center of your chest
a bare valley
stretching out
every way you turn.

Did you think
this was where
you had come to die?

It’s true that
you may need
to do some crumbling,
That some things
you have protected
may want to be
laid bare,
That you will be asked
to let go
and let go,

But listen.
This is what
a desert is for.

If you have come here
if you have come here
then thank your lucky stars
the desert is where
you have landed—
here where it is hard
to hide,
here where it is unwise
to rely on your own devices,
here where you will
have to look
and look again
and look close
to find what refreshment waits
to reveal itself to you.

I tell you,
though it may be hard
to see it now,
this is where
your greatest blessing
will find you.

I tell you,
this is where
you will receive
your life again.

I tell you,
this is where
the breath begins.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Your Earth,” 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.

15 Responses to “Lent 1: Where the Breath Begins”

  1. Judith Bacon Says:

    How beautiful. And what I needed.

  2. Susan Bauer Says:

    Thank you so much for this. I am grieving the loss of my husband who died just 6 months ago. When I listened to this morning’s Gospel lesson, I realized that my own temptation is to surrender to despair and desolation. Your meditation here, Jan, offered me a sip of cool water in my own desert.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Susan, I am so very sorry about your husband and for the desert of grief you have entered with his death. I’m grateful for your words, and I pray that God will send every wellspring you need on the path. May deep peace and many graces attend you.

  3. Betty Roy Says:

    So hard to stay in that DRY, ARID long enough to allow the blessing. Wow, this is powerful.

  4. Libby Hill Says:

    My own thought this morning before reading “Where the Breath Begins”, was that Moses FLED into the desert, but Jesus was LED into the desert, making it a place you flee to or are led to by the Spirit. In either case, there is a well you can sit by and wait for help to come, like daughters of priests or angelic nurses, or you can drop everything and wander until you find the oasis! The result is that in it all, you become a meek burning bush. Then, and only then, can God truly use you. Lord, I’m thirsty. Take me there.

  5. Katie Whire Says:

    Yes. Just what I needed. Am in a waiting period to find about health issues. I just finished a 20 minute mediation and read this. It was a precious balm for me. Thank you.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Katie, thank you! Know I’m sending blessings for you as you navigate these health issues. I pray some good news has come to you in your waiting, and that, whatever the news, you will be met with whatever you need. Thank you again.

  6. Christine Stander Says:

    I am at a loss for words to describe how seeing your Painted Prayerbook Lent 1 in my email both took my breath away and immediately gave it back. I’m sure that you know you’ve greatly missed and prayed for…Katie’s “precious balm” describes your work and your words for me right now. I couldn’t be more grateful to walk the Lenten way with you again this year. Thank you, Jan.

  7. Barbara Roberts Says:

    I love your poetry and art, your heartfelt messages as you journey through life!

  8. Heather Says:

    I came across this post today, and I immediately wanted to reach out. I am also an artist using theopoetics to contemplate the Divine. So important to connect to others doing similar work. I love what you said about a journey into our own selves. I would love to connect. http://www.BluePhoenixArt.com

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Heather, thank you for reaching out! I’m grateful to you for connecting and for the chance to visit your site and learn something about your unexpected and artful journey. I send you an armload of blessings.

  9. Anne Andert Says:

    Last fall I walked the Camino de Santiago; a 500 mile ancient pilgrimage across northern Spain. It was difficult and wonderful and transformational, though I have been at a loss for how to process and articulate the experience. The significance of the 40-day journey was not lost on me, but I think it is with your questions and reflections that I can finally dive into the wisdom of that pilgrimage that awaits me. My heartfelt thanks.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Anne, thank you so much. What a journey you have been on! I can imagine the pilgrimage is still unfolding in you. I pray that the wisdom of the Camino will continue to make itself known to you. I send you many blessings as you contemplate this experience and as you continue to travel your path. Deep peace to you.

  10. Christine Thompson Says:

    I love the way you write, Jan. Blessings to you, now and always.
    Peace. Peace. Peace.

    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Thank you so much, Christine! I’m so grateful for your words, your blessings, your heart. Blessings and deep peace to you and yours.

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