Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Lent 4: Mysteries of the Mud

March 25, 2017

Image: Mysteries of the Mud
© Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Lent 4, Year A: John 9.1-41

“He put mud on my eyes.
Then I washed, and now I see.”
—John 9.15

He could simply have touched him. Or spoken a single word. Instead, when Jesus encounters a man who has been blind since birth, he spits on the ground, turns the dirt to mud, and spreads the mud on the man’s eyes. Jesus tells him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam.

The man goes. Washes. And sees.

Appearing midway in our Lenten journey, this story reminds us that this season is a time for getting close to the things of the earth. Ash, wilderness, waters of birth, wellspring, mud: the images that have accompanied us these past few weeks impress upon us what an elemental fellow Jesus is. Throughout his ministry we see him touching the world around him, turning to the things of earth to help us see the things of heaven.

This week’s gospel reading underscores it for us: Jesus is no sterile savior. He is not interested in remaining tidy and removed. With a beautiful and earthy economy of gestures, Jesus reveals himself as one who is willing to fully inhabit the messiness of our world and of our lives. He is ready to enter into the muck with us. He engages the muck as a place where holiness happens: where sludge becomes sacramental, and through grimy eyes we begin to behold the face of Love, beholding us right back.

How might the mucky places, the thick places, the earthy places become the very places that Christ uses to help you see more clearly? Are there places or practices that contain something of Siloam for you—spaces where you can wash away what would hinder you from seeing, and allow your vision to become clear? How might you take yourself to your Siloam in this season, this day, this moment?

Blessing of Mud

Lest we think
the blessing
is not
in the dirt.

Lest we think
the blessing
is not
in the earth
beneath our feet.

Lest we think
the blessing
is not
in the dust,

like the dust
that God scooped up
at the beginning
and formed
with God’s
two hands
and breathed into
with God’s own
breath.

Lest we think
the blessing
is not
in the spit.

Lest we think
the blessing
is not
in the mud.

Lest we think
the blessing
is not
in the mire,
the grime,
the muck.

Lest we think
God cannot reach
deep into the things
of earth,
cannot bring forth
the blessing
that shimmers
within the sludge,
cannot anoint us
with a tender
and grimy grace.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Mysteries of the Mud,” 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.

Lent 3: We Will Find Wellsprings

March 18, 2017

Image: We Will Find Wellsprings for Our Deepest Thirst
© Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Lent 3, Year A: John 4.5-42

A Samaritan woman came to draw water.
—John 4.7

Wholly seen. Wholly known. A woman sets out on a daily task, carrying her water jar with her. She returns from her task transformed, proclaiming what she has seen and heard, her water jar left behind.

It is no mistake that this encounter happens at a well, and one established by no less a figure than Jacob, who knew what it meant to meet God by the waters and become forever altered. On the day that Jesus encounters this woman of Samaria, the well echoes with all the waters that have flowed through the story of God: the waters through which God has created, gathered, graced, comforted, delivered, and renewed the people of God.

As the woman talks with Jesus, the well echoes, too, with her own story, both spoken and unspoken. The tale of her entire life resonates in the space between her and Jesus, and in the knowing that passes both ways.

In this Lenten season, where do you need to go to be seen like this, to be heard in this way, to be known as this woman was known? What part of your story do you most need to give into the hands of someone who will receive it with gentleness, who will invite you to see it in its wholeness, who will help you listen for the wellspring that its hollows contain?

Blessing of the Well

If you stand
at the edge
of this blessing
and call down
into it,
you will hear
your words
return to you.

If you lean in
and listen close,
you will hear
this blessing
give the story
of your life
back to you.

Quiet your voice.
Quiet your judgment.
Quiet the way
you always tell
your story
to yourself.

Quiet all these
and you will hear
the whole of it
and the hollows of it:
the spaces
in the telling,
the gaps
where you hesitate
to go.

Sit at the rim
of this blessing.
Press your ear
to its lip,
its sides,
its curves
that were carved out
long ago
by those whose thirst
drove them deep,
those who dug
into the layers
with only their hands
and hope.

Rest yourself
beside this blessing
and you will
begin to hear
the sound of water
entering the gaps.

Still yourself
and you will feel it
rising up within you,
filling every emptiness,
springing forth
anew.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “We Will Find Wellsprings for Our Deepest Thirst,” 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.

Lent 1: Where the Breath Begins

March 5, 2017

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

Dry
and dry
and dry
in each direction.

Dust dry.
Desert dry.
Bone dry.

And here
in your own heart:
dry,
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,
yes.
That some things
you have protected
may want to be
laid bare,
yes.
That you will be asked
to let go
and let go,
yes.

But listen.
This is what
a desert is for.

If you have come here
desolate,
if you have come here
deflated,
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.

Epiphany Day: Where the Map Begins

January 3, 2017

Image: An Ancient Light © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Epiphany Day: Matthew 2.1-12

“We observed his star at its rising,
and have come to pay him homage.”
—Matthew 2.2

Friends, Happy New Year! I am grateful to be opening a new chapter of The Painted Prayerbook with you as this year begins.

With Epiphany approaching on January 6, I want to share a blessing with you that I first offered here in 2010 (in this post, which includes a reflection on the story of the journey of the Magi). Like so many blessings that I wrote before Gary died, this one rings differently for me now. As I work to make a new path so altered from the one Gary and I had dreamed together, it comes as a grace to remember the story of the wise ones who set out with only a star to guide them.

If you are feeling mapless, if you are needing light for an uncertain path, this is for you.

Where the Map Begins
A Blessing for Epiphany

This is not
any map you know.
Forget longitude.
Forget latitude.
Do not think
of distances
or of plotting
the most direct route.
Astrolabe, sextant, compass:
these will not help you here.

This is the map
that begins with a star.
This is the chart
that starts with fire,
with blazing,
with an ancient light
that has outlasted
generations, empires,
cultures, wars.

Look starward once,
then look away.
Close your eyes
and see how the map
begins to blossom
behind your lids,
how it constellates,
its lines stretching out
from where you stand.

You cannot see it all,
cannot divine the way
it will turn and spiral,
cannot perceive how
the road you walk
will lead you finally inside,
through the labyrinth
of your own heart
and belly
and lungs.

But step out
and you will know
what the wise who traveled
this path before you
knew:
the treasure in this map
is buried
not at journey’s end
but at its beginning.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “An Ancient Light,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Advent special! During this season, subscribe to Jan Richardson Images and receive unlimited digital downloads for only $125 per year (regularly $165). Click Subscribe to sign up. (Extended through Epiphany!)

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.

Opening The Advent Door

December 12, 2016

Crossing the ThresholdImage: Crossing the Threshold  © Jan Richardson

Friends, I want to make sure you know that during this season, I’m over at my blog The Advent Door. I would be delighted for your company there! My latest reflection is “Advent 3: In Sorrow and Celebration.”

In these Advent days, I send you much gratitude and many blessings. See you back here at The Painted Prayerbook in the new year!

Blessing for an Anniversary Date

November 10, 2016

Wandering in TimeImage: Wandering in Time © Jan Richardson

We are moving through a season that holds such tender markers for me, anniversaries that echo with deep sorrow instead of celebration. We have passed Halloween, the day that holds the beginnings of who Gary and I became together. His fateful surgery was November 14. His birthday—he spent his final one in the hospital—is November 17. December 2 will mark three years since Gary died.

The span of time since Gary’s death feels both surprisingly short and achingly long. These days of memory, these anniversary days I am moving through, heighten that sense of the shortness-and-longness of time, making me more keenly aware of the ways that time compresses even as it stretches out, fluid even in its seeming fixity.

From the moment the neurosurgeon came into the waiting room at 4 a.m. and said, It did not go as we anticipated, time has moved in strange ways. I have come to think of this strangeness as a consequence of having a heart that now lives in two worlds, a heart that has been torn open toward eternity even as I continue to open my heart to this life, to what is here and now.

In the strangeness of time, there is deep grace. And perhaps the strangeness itself is a grace. Perhaps the strangeness is a sign that time is wider and deeper and more whole than we can perceive in this life, that now and eternity are not the separate realms we often make them out to be.

When we travel through days of memory that stir our sorrow, when we spiral back around moments that open doors to a past we wish we had the power to change, when time seems more of a burden than a blessing, may we be given a glimpse of the eternity these days hold. May these anniversaries show us that grace and love are vaster than our sorrow, and more enduring. May we find that remembering can be a form of hope. May we know time’s strange graces and open our hearts toward the solace they hold.

Blessing for an Anniversary Date

I am imagining
you have learned by now
that time will never move
quite straight for you again—
no more forward only,
if ever it traveled that way.

Now it will be
the bend and
the turn of it,
the curve and
the cradling of it,

the unfurling,
unfolding,
unwinding of it
as it arcs you around
in this spiral
of seasons,
as it draws you around
in this circle
of days.

Like today,
for instance—
this day that marks
a year since last
you passed by
this gate,
this threshold,
this door
that lives with such
vividness in your
memory,
opening onto the
chamber of your heart
where what this day once held
keeps happening.

Let yourself listen
for the liturgy
that persists here,
for the life you shared
that still opens out
along secret paths.

Let yourself
linger again
at the door
of this day.

Let yourself
give yourself into
its hours with
exquisite kindness
and wondrous care.

Light the candles
in celebration
of what remains,
in the ceremony
of what abides
in the shelter
of these hours,
in the mystery
of this day.

—Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow

The Cure for Sorrow

COMING NOVEMBER 15!

A blessing meets us in the place of our deepest loss. In that place, it gives us a glimpse of wholeness and claims that wholeness here and now. —from the Introduction

Jan’s much-anticipated new book enters with heartbreaking honesty into the rending that loss brings. It moves, too, into the unexpected shelters of solace and hope, inviting us to recognize the presence of love that, as she writes, is “sorrow’s most lasting cure.”

Available now for pre-order on Amazon.

 

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Wandering in Time,” 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.

All Saints: God of the Living

October 31, 2016

A Gathering of SpiritsImage: A Gathering of Spirits © Jan Richardson

“Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living;
for to him all of them are alive.”
—Luke 20:38

I have long loved this trinity of days of October 31, November 1, and November 2: Halloween, the Feast of All Saints, the Feast of All Souls. For many years these days have been for me a threshold time—what the Celtic tradition calls a thin place, where the veil between worlds becomes permeable. I learned long ago that this thin place is a time for paying attention, for listening at the threshold, for noticing what door seems to be opening and inviting me to walk through.

It seemed fitting that Gary and I began dating on Halloween, that the roots of our relationship go deep into these thin, in-between, meeting-of-worlds days. As I continue to navigate this path in the wake of his dying, it comes as a comfort to remember the message of the Feast of All Saints: that in the body of Christ, death does not release us from being in relationship with one another. The separation that causes us such pain in this life does not sever the bonds of community.

As we move through these days, I want to share a blessing I wrote three years ago, the last time this reading from Luke 20 came up in the lectionary. When I wrote the blessing, I had no idea how much I would need it for myself, and how soon. Just a week after I posted it, Gary had the surgery that, so unexpectedly, would bear him away from us.

In these days, may the veil be thin for each of us. May we know the blessing of those who are gone from this life but who breathe with us still, and may we know the grace of the God who breathes life into us all. Deep peace to you.

God of the Living
A Blessing

When the wall
between the worlds
is too firm,
too close.

When it seems
all solidity
and sharp edges.

When every morning
you wake as if
flattened against it,
its forbidding presence
fairly pressing the breath
from you
all over again.

Then may you be given
a glimpse
of how weak the wall

and how strong what stirs
on the other side,

breathing with you
and blessing you
still,
forever bound to you
but freeing you
into this living,
into this world
so much wider
than you ever knew.

—Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow

The Cure for Sorrow

COMING NOVEMBER 15!

A blessing meets us in the place of our deepest loss. In that place, it gives us a glimpse of wholeness and claims that wholeness here and now. —from the Introduction

Jan’s much-anticipated new book enters with heartbreaking honesty into the rending that loss brings. It moves, too, into the unexpected shelters of solace and hope, inviting us to recognize the presence of love that, as she writes, is “sorrow’s most lasting cure.”

Available now for pre-order on Amazon.

 

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “A Gathering of Spirits,” 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.

Solace Blessing

October 20, 2016

Gesture of GraceImage: Gesture of Grace © Jan Richardson

In the anguish. In the grief. In the unmendable loss and unfixable sorrow.

In the rending of the heart within us. In the ruptures of the world around us.

In the divisions. In the rancor. In the fissures and fractures and all the ways that life breaks us open.

In this. What solace do we need to receive? What solace do we need to offer? Among the fragments, what gesture of grace will we inhabit and inscribe and enact?

Solace Blessing

That’s it.
That’s all this blessing
knows how to do:

Shine your shoes.
Fill your refrigerator.
Water your plants.
Make some soup.

All the things
you cannot think
to do yourself
when the world
has come apart,
when nothing
will be normal
again.

Somehow
this blessing knows
precisely what you need,
even before
you know.

It sees what will bring
the deepest solace
for you.
It senses what will offer
the kindest grace.

And so it will step
with such quietness
into the ordinary moments
where the absence
is the deepest.

It will enter
with such tenderness
into the hours
where the sorrow
is most keen.

You do not even
have to ask.

Just leave it open—
your door,
your heart,
your day
in every aching moment
it holds.

See what solace
spills through the gaps
your sorrow has torn.

See what comfort
comes to visit,
holding out its gifts
in each compassionate hand.

—Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow

The Cure for Sorrow

COMING NOVEMBER 15!

A blessing meets us in the place of our deepest loss. In that place, it gives us a glimpse of wholeness and claims that wholeness here and now. —from the Introduction

Jan’s much-anticipated new book enters with heartbreaking honesty into the rending that loss brings. It moves, too, into the unexpected shelters of solace and hope, inviting us to recognize the presence of love that, as she writes, is “sorrow’s most lasting cure.”

Available now for pre-order on Amazon.

 

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Gesture of Grace,” 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 for the Dailiness of Grief

September 16, 2016

Time's GraceImage: Time’s Grace © Jan Richardson

It’s the dailiness of grief that I find most daunting. Morning after morning I wake into a world that does not have Gary in it. I will never find him making breakfast in the kitchen, waiting to enfold me as we begin the day. I will never sit down across from him at the table. I will never call out to him from my studio as he works in his studio. I will never walk into the house and hear him say, Hello, Sweetheart! I will never walk out of the house with him and move together through this world, these moments, this life in the ways we so loved.

And still, it is in those same moments that grace finds me. It is in those same moments that solace steals in, working its way into the everydayness that can be so daunting but in which love still lives, waiting to enfold me as I begin the day. Sitting itself down across from me at the table. Visiting me in the studio. Welcoming me every time I walk into the house and blessing me every time I leave it. Breathing with me as I find new rhythms, new patterns, new doorways in every single day.

Blessing for the Dailiness of Grief

Sorry I am
to say it,
but it is here,
most likely,
you will know the rending
most deeply.

It will take your breath away,
how the grieving waits for you
in the most ordinary moments.

It will wake
with your waking.

It will
sit itself down
with you at the table,
inhabiting the precise shape
of the emptiness
across from you.

It will walk down the street
with you
in the form of
no hand reaching out
to take yours.

It will stand alongside you
in every conversation,
nearly unbearable
in its silence
that fairly screams.

It will
brush its teeth
with you at night
and climb into bed
with you
when finally
you let go
of this day.

Even as it goes
always with you,
it will still manage
to startle you with
its presence,
causing you to weep
when you enter
the empty kitchen
in the morning,
when you spread fresh sheets
on the bed you shared,
when you walk out
through the door
alone
and pass back through it
likewise.

It is here
you will know it best—
in the moments
that made up the rhythm
of your days,
that fashioned the litany
of your life,
the togethering
you will never know
in the same way again.

But I will tell you
it is here, too,
that your solace lies.
It will wait for you
in those same moments
that stun you
with their sorrow.

I cannot tell you how,
but it will not cease
to carry you
in the cadence that has
forever altered
but whose echo will persist
with a stubbornness
that will surprise you,
bearing you along,
breathing with you still
through the terrible
and exquisite
ordinary days.

—Jan Richardson
from a forthcoming book of blessings

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Time’s Grace,” 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 for Falling into a New Layer of Grief

August 10, 2016

The Secret RoomImage: The Secret Room © Jan Richardson

It always catches me by surprise when it happens. I’m going along, learning to find my way in this strange terrain that opened to me in the wake of Gary’s death. I’ve gained some acquaintance with the landscape of grief, have listened and looked hard for the new life that’s unfolding here, and have become adept at asking, What do I need now? What’s the invitation here, in this place?

And then, in the landscape that I think I’m coming to know, the ground suddenly falls away. I tumble into territory that doesn’t look familiar. I feel lost all over again, and nearly helpless to know what would help.

I find it difficult to describe this place—this space that can open up as we navigate the strange country of grief. The first time it happened to me, perhaps a year into my grieving, I said to a friend, It feels like some corner of my heart is just getting the news that Gary died. When it happened again, earlier this year, I told that friend it felt like I had fallen—hard—into a new layer of grief, as if I had crashed through a once-solid floor into the room below. For all the strangeness, the falling came with a familiar sensation—that some part of my heart, some hidden recess in one of its chambers, had just received the terrible, heartrending news that Gary was gone.

I sense that this kind of experience has something to do with settling deeper and deeper into the reality of loss—or letting the loss settle more and more deeply into us. When we lose someone with whom we have shared our life, it is impossible to fathom at the outset how utterly this will alter us. We cannot absorb it all at once. And so we learn it little by little, living into the loss a few steps, a few moments, a few breaths at a time.

Once in a while, our grief-laden hearts are ready for larger shifts. It’s rarely pretty when it happens. For me, those are the crashing-through-the-floor times. The helpless weeping times. The times when it feels like part of my heart is just hearing the news. The times when I look at all I’ve done to make a new life, and it feels like ashes because Gary is not here.

The good news—and there is good news here, though it can sometimes take long and long to see it through all the rubble and ash—is that when something in our heart and in our life collapses and crumbles, we fall into new spaces we could hardly have imagined on this side of the crumbling. For all the pain of landing there, those spaces tend also to hold wonders that are waiting for us to find them.

Those spaces make our hearts larger. They widen our hearts beyond anything we could have envisioned. In the crumbling and collapsing and crashing, more of our heart becomes exposed. This means we have more access to our own selves, that there is more of us available to be who we are. We are able to be more present to the life that is unfolding through us, to the grace that lives within the grief, to those around us, and even to our beloved who is gone but who somehow lives in new ways in our expanding heart.

I will tell you, nearly three years now since Gary’s death, that having a bigger heart is small consolation in the face of his absence. But if I have to live with his absence, then I will take the bigger heart. I will pray that I can keep allowing it to open, and open, and open still more, even when the opening feels like crumbling. Even when it feels like falling.

Blessing for Falling into a New Layer of Grief

You thought
you had hit
every layer possible,
that you had found
the far limit
of your sorrow,
of your grief.

Now the world falls
from beneath your feet
all over again,
as if the wound
were opening
for the first time,
only now with
an ache you recognize
as ancient.

Here is the time
for kindness—
your own, to yourself—
as you fall
and fall,
as you land hard
in this layer
that lies deeper than
you ever imagined
you could go.

Think of it as
a secret room—
this space
that has opened
before you,
that has opened
inside you,
though it may look
sharp in every corner
and sinister
no matter where
you turn.

Think of it as
a hidden chamber
in your heart
where you can stay
as long as you need,
where you will
find provision
you never wanted
but on which
your life will now
depend.

I want to tell you
there is treasure
even here—
that the sharp lines
that so match your scars
will lead
to solace;
that this space
that feels so foreign
will become for you
a shelter.

So let yourself fall.
It will not be
the last time,
but do not let this be
cause for fear.

These are the rooms
around which your
new home will grow—
the home of your heart,
the home of your life
that welcomes you
with such completeness,
opening and
opening and
opening itself to you,
no part of you
turned away.

—Jan Richardson
from a forthcoming book of blessings

Using Jan’s artwork…
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Using Jan’s words…
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