Archive for the ‘blessings’ Category

So That You May Know the Hope

November 19, 2014

So That You May Know the HopeImage: So That You May Know the Hope © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Epistles for Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday: Ephesians 1.15-23

So that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened,
you may know what is the hope to which
he has called you.

– Ephesians 1.18

Hope is a hard word for me these days. Last Friday marked a year since Gary had the surgery that would begin to bear him away from us. I think of those who waited with me with such hope throughout that surgery, throughout the two emergency surgeries that would follow, and throughout all the days we kept vigil with Gary until it became clear our vigil was at an end. What is the use of hoping, when hope comes to such a pass?

For those in grief, it is common to encounter well-meaning people who seek to stir our hope by schooling us in God’s ineffable ways, who want to tell us our loss is part of a larger plan and a bigger mystery that we cannot know from here but that we will understand one day. I have a tremendous tolerance for mystery, a great capacity to abide the unknown. In the wake of my husband’s death, I am clear that when it comes to suffering, in the astounding variety of forms by which we experience it in this world, it is not enough to chalk it up to mystery, to a larger plan. It’s not that I’m not interested in the bigger mystery, or in knowing that I might have a better grasp of it someday in another world. It’s just that someday is not, in itself, sufficient to get me through this day, to move me from one moment to the next in this world where Gary is not.

In the midst of my grief, what I know is that hope, inexplicably, has not left me. That it is stubborn. That it lives in me like a muscle that keeps reaching and stretching, or a lung that keeps working even when I do not will it, persisting in the constant intake and release of breath on which my life depends.

The apostle Paul (or, perhaps, the author who wrote in his name) well knows the deep presence of mystery in our life with God. (For now we see in a mirror, dimly, he writes in 1 Corinthians 13.) But he, too, is uninterested in simply abiding the mystery or locating our hope in a “someday” realm. In this week’s passage from Ephesians, he prays quite specifically for his friends to be illuminated here and now, praying that God will give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation as they come to know God. He prays that the eyes of their hearts will be enlightened. So that you may know, he writes, what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power (18-19).

Paul is talking about a knowing that is tied with resurrection. He is talking about a hope that is bound together with the life of the risen Christ. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead, Paul writes in verse 20. Paul makes clear that Christ, in turn, is putting his power to work in us, and not just for someday, but also for now: that this hope is active in our lives as we press into the mystery that attends us. Even as Paul writes about the risen Christ being seated in the heavenly places, he also bears witness to a Christ who wore our flesh and abides with us still, hoping for us when our hope is shattered, breathing new life into us, encompassing us in the arms of a community that holds us with hope.

Hope is not always comforting or comfortable. Hope asks us to open ourselves to what we do not know, to pray for illumination in this life, to imagine what is beyond our imagining, to bear what seems unbearable. It calls us to keep breathing when beloved lives have left us, to turn toward one another when we might prefer to turn away. Hope draws our eyes and hearts toward a more whole future but propels us also into the present, where Christ waits for us to work with him toward a more whole world now.

What are you hoping for these days? Who helps you hope when it is hard to hope? How does your hope call you to see what is here and now?

Blessing of Hope

So may we know
the hope
that is not just
for someday
but for this day
here, now,
in this moment
that opens to us
hope not made
of wishes
but of substance
hope made of sinew
and muscle
and bone
hope that has breath
and a beating heart
hope that will not
keep quiet
and be polite
hope that knows
how to holler
when it is called for
hope that knows
how to sing
when there seems
little cause
hope that raises us
from the dead
not someday
but this day,
every day,
again and
again and
again.

– Jan Richardson

For previous reflections for Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday, visit Christ Among the Scraps and You Who Bless.

An Advent Journey…

ILLUMINATED 2014 — Registration now open!
Are you hungry for an experience that invites you into Advent without stressing your schedule? This online retreat is not about adding one more thing to your holidays. It is about helping you find spaces for reflection that draw you deep into this season that shimmers with mystery and possibility. Offering a space of elegant simplicity as you journey toward Christmas, the Illuminated retreat fits easily into the rhythm of your days, anywhere you are. Begins November 30. For info and registration, visit ILLUMINATED 2014. Individual, group, & congregational rates available.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “So That You May Know the Hope,” 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.

Whether Awake or Asleep

November 10, 2014

Whether Awake or AsleepImage: Whether Awake or Asleep © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Epistles, Year A, Proper 28/Ordinary 33/Pentecost +23: 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11

For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining
salvation
through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us,
so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.
– 1 Thessalonians 5.9-10

How would it be for us to become so awake to God that we know God even in our sleeping: the sleeping we do in the rhythm of daily life, and the final sleep that will carry us beyond this life? What would it be like to live completely present to the hope that makes a home in our grief (to pick up on Paul’s words last week from 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18), the hope that draws us beyond death? How might it be to live so aware of God’s love for us that it becomes our light, our heartbeat, our breathing to the end of our days—and the beginning?

How will we stay awake to this hope, this love, this God who lives with us in every moment?

Whether Awake or Asleep
A Blessing

This is the blessing
that writes itself
in your sleeping.

This is the blessing
that inscribes itself
in your waking.

This is the blessing
that twines through
your heart
with every beat,
that lays itself
across your brow
in every moment,
that breathes with you
in every breath

so that even
in your resting
you know
and even
in your slumber
you are aware
and even
in your dreaming
your heart keeps time
with the voice that calls
to you

awake
awake
awake.

– Jan Richardson

For reflections on the Gospel reading for this week, visit Blessing the Talents and Parabolic Curves.

An Advent Journey…

ILLUMINATED 2014 — Registration now open!
Are you hungry for an experience that invites you into Advent without stressing your schedule? This online retreat is not about adding one more thing to your holidays. It is about helping you find spaces for reflection that draw you deep into this season that shimmers with mystery and possibility. Offering a space of elegant simplicity as you journey toward Christmas, the Illuminated retreat fits easily into the rhythm of your days, anywhere you are. Begins November 30. For info and registration, visit ILLUMINATED 2014. Group & congregational rates available.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Whether Awake or Asleep,” 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 the Story Begins

November 4, 2014

Where the Story BeginsImage: Where the Story Begins © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Psalms, Year A, Proper 27/Ordinary 32/Pentecost +22: Psalm 78.1-7

I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,

things that we have heard and known,
that our ancestors have told us.
– Psalm 78.2,3

Gary was a remarkable storyteller. In the Song Chapel concerts that he performed across the United States, song and spoken word wove together, inviting us to hear the story of God anew. Gary knew how to pare away the layers of familiarity in the stories of our faith—those layers that can lull us into thinking we know what a story is about. In his hands, a story became a sacred space of revelation, of transformation, of welcome.

Sometime after Gary’s death, the thought came to me: Now he is all story. Story is what remains of my beloved: the stories he told in song and spoken word; the stories by which he invited us to enter into the story of God; and the stories we tell now of who Gary was in this life.

The author of Psalm 78 understands the power of story, and the absolute necessity of it. He understands that we cannot know God without stories; that we cannot know ourselves without them. The psalmist knows that we cannot be the people of God without telling the story of God, passing the story on to each generation. Things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us, the psalmist writes.

Where does the power of a story lie? What is it about a story that so compels us?

Once upon a time.
Long ago and far away.
In the beginning.

Incantation and enchantment, invitation and initiation.

We speak of getting lost in a story, but part of what draws us to a story is the promise of finding: finding a different world, finding another time, finding ourselves. There is something in us that hungers for a story, an empty space that is shaped precisely to its contours. We reach for the threads that a story offers, we enter the rooms it opens to us, we inhabit the skin of another and somehow, in the hands of a good story, we are returned to ourselves. And we are perhaps holding the threads of our own stories a bit differently, or entering a new space within ourselves, or finding ourselves able to inhabit our own skin more completely.

Elie Wiesel says that God created us because God loves stories.

When Christ came (in the fullness of time, the story goes), he came as the Word made flesh. A story in motion. And he went into the world with stories on his lips, weaving them everywhere he went.

A sower went out to sow.
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers.
There was a man who had two sons.

And, this week, Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.

Jesus understood that in a world where it can be so difficult to know God, to know others, to know even ourselves, a story can offer a language, a doorway, a point of entry. He knew how a story can take us a little deeper into knowing, a little farther down the road in our journey of return.

We will not hide them from their children, the psalmist writes in Psalm 78. And perhaps that’s where the true power of a good story lies: that it unhides something, reveals something—and someone—we need to know.

What stories are you listening to? What stories are you telling? How do you attend to your own story? Where have you experienced being lost in a story, and being found? How might God be inviting you to look at your story with new eyes?

Blessing the Story

You might think
this blessing lives
in the story
that you can see,
that it has curled up
in a comfortable spot
on the surface
of the telling.

But this blessing lives
in the story beneath
the story.
It lives in the story
inside the story.
In the spaces
between.
In the edges,
the margins,
the mysterious gaps,
the enticing and
fertile emptiness.

This blessing
makes its home
within the layers.
This blessing is
doorway and portal,
passage and path.
It is more ancient
than imagining
and makes itself
ever new.

This blessing
is where the story
begins.

– Jan Richardson

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

Midnight Oil
Midnight Oil

An Advent Journey…

ILLUMINATED 2014 — Registration now open!
Are you hungry for an experience that invites you into Advent without stressing your schedule? This online retreat is not about adding one more thing to your holidays. It is about helping you find spaces for reflection that draw you deep into this season that shimmers with mystery and possibility. Offering a space of elegant simplicity as you journey toward Christmas, the Illuminated retreat fits easily into the rhythm of your days, anywhere you are. Begins November 30. For info and registration, visit ILLUMINATED 2014. Group & congregational rates available.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Where the Story Begins,” 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.