Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Almost Advent

November 21, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

I have other treasures, treats, and resources designed especially for your Advent path; I invite you to stop by The Advent Door to find out more. During Advent, that’s where I’ll be posting new reflections. I look forward to journeying through the season with you there, and returning to The Painted Prayerbook for Epiphany.

Blessings and gratitude to you as Advent approaches!

Epiphany: Where the Map Begins

December 30, 2010


An Ancient Light © Jan L. Richardson

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

I love this time between Christmas Day and Epiphany. Although the prospect of moving beyond the holidays is always a bit poignant for me, I take comfort in knowing that the festival of Christmas lasts not for one day but for twelve, and there is still cause for celebration before we leave this season. This year in particular I am grateful for the opportunity to rest and reflect, and to do some dreaming as well as playing before I dive into the coming year.

In these blissfully quiet days, I have spent time curled up with a few books. One that I am especially savoring was a Christmas gift from my parents. Mapping the World: Stories of Geography, written by Caroline and Martine Laffon, is a beautifully produced book that traces some of the history of how we humans have sought to chart the universe, and our place within it, over millennia. With images of maps from ancient to contemporary times, the book reveals how maps are never neutral documents: they provide a glimpse of the beliefs, myths, legends, and sometimes prejudices of those who created them.

I have spent much time this year thinking about maps. In retreats, workshops, worship, and conversation, the question has surfaced again and again: In a world that we enter with no map in hand, no blueprint, no book of instructions, how do we find our way? In the Wellspring service, the contemplative worship gathering that Gary and I lead, we recently finished a five-part series titled “Mapping the Mysteries of Faith.” As we explored this theme and the questions that it stirred, the conversations we had at Wellspring were rich and refreshing. We didn’t leave with many answers—that’s not the point of the Wellspring service—but I found myself reminded once again of how crucial it is to have the company of wise travelers as we make our own maps.

With Epiphany on the horizon, I find myself thinking of the magi, those ancient travelers who went in search of the Christ. Wise to the heavens, they still possessed no map, no ready-made chart that laid out their course.  As Matthew tells it, all that the magi had to illuminate their terrain and guide their way was a star. This was where their map began: with a burning light, with a step taken, with the company of others gazing in the same direction.

In that spirit, here’s a new poem. Composed while I was curled up among the books, it’s for Epiphany, and for you.

Where the Map Begins

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.

As we travel through these Christmas days toward Epiphany and the coming year, where do you find yourself in your map? What are you giving your attention to? Are you looking in a direction that enables you to see possible paths? Is there a turn you need to take in your map? Where might you begin? Who can help?

As we travel toward Epiphany and beyond, blessings and good company to you.

[For previous Epiphany reflections, visit Feast of the Epiphany: Blessing the House; Feast of the Epiphany: A Calendar of Kings; Inviting Epiphany; and The Feast of the Epiphany: Magi and Mystery.]

[To use the “An Ancient Light” image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Into Advent

November 22, 2010


Where Advent Begins © Jan L. Richardson

The elves and I are busy in the studio, happily painting and plotting as we prepare for Advent to begin this Sunday. During the coming season, I’ll be posting new reflections and artwork over at The Advent Door instead of here at The Painted Prayerbook. I’ve already added a couple of entries there and would be delighted for you to stop by. I’m planning to post at The Advent Door several times each week and look forward to sharing the coming days with you. I have lots of other resources for Advent and Christmas; you can find out more here.

I am also thrilled to say that my new book, In the Sanctuary of Women, was published last month. You can find more info and place orders on the Books page at my main website, where inscribed copies are available by request. I have also launched a companion site for the book at sanctuaryofwomen.com. More than just a site about the book, sanctuaryofwomen.com is designed to foster conversation and community through such features as the Guide for Reading Groups and the Sanctuary blog. I’d love for you to visit!

And if you live in central Florida, please join us for a special holiday evening to celebrate the book’s publication. The gathering will be Friday, December 3, at 8 PM at First United Methodist Church of Winter Park (near Orlando). For further info, visit Sanctuary Celebration.

In this week in which we celebrate U.S. Thanksgiving, know that I am grateful for you. Many blessings to you as we cross into Advent.

On the Sickth Day of Christmas

December 30, 2009


Magi and Mystery © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Epiphany, Years ABC: Matthew 2.1-12

I’ve spent the past few days dealing with an unexpected Christmas guest: a rare (for me) head cold. It’s one way to get a break, I suppose, but not the way that I’d planned to spend these lovely days between Christmas Day and Epiphany. I finally gave in and went to the doctor today and trust I’ll be back in the swing of things soon.

I had planned to post a new reflection for Epiphany early this week, and still have hopes of doing so before the week is out; we’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, I invite you to visit my previous Epiphany posts: Magi and Mystery, Inviting Epiphany, and Feast of the Epiphany: A Calendar of Kings.

To see all my artwork for the Feast of the Epiphany, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com.

On this sixth day of Christmas, I wish you peace and good health!

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

December 28, 2009


The Hour of Vespers: Flight to Egypt © Jan L. Richardson

With Advent being my busiest season of the entire year, it comes as something of a comfort to me that Christmas is not just a single day: in the rhythm of the liturgical year, Christmas lasts for twelve days. There’s some variation of opinion as to when the Twelve Days of Christmas begin; some say Christmas night, others begin the count on December 26. Regardless, the season of Christmas ends with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. No matter how you count it, the days of Christmas invite us not to be too hasty in bringing an end to our celebration of the Incarnation. For me, this celebration includes giving my incarnated self some rest and savoring the delights that the season yet offers to us.

The Twelve Days of Christmas include several feast days that help define the season. December 26 was the Feast of St. Stephen (featured in the carol “Good King Wenceslas”), the first Christian to die for bearing witness to the one who had come as Emmanuel, God with us. Yesterday was the feast of St. John. Today, December 28, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents—the male children slaughtered by the soldiers of King Herod, as told in Matthew 2.16-18. (The Eastern Orthodox Church observes this on December 29.) This grim feast day reminds us to acknowledge the shadow side of the Christmas season: amid our celebration of the Christ who came as the light of the world, the presence of evil persists. To truly celebrate the birth of Christ means working against the forces that perpetuate suffering.

The Massacre of the Innocents appears often in medieval artwork, usually in gruesome detail and sometimes in connection with the Flight to Egypt (Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ escape from the soldiers). The image above is from my Advent Hours series and depicts an intriguing variation on the story of the Flight to Egypt that incorporates St. Brigid, the famed Irish saint. Many ancient prayers and legends from Celtic lands refer to St. Brigid of Kildare as the foster-mother of Christ and the midwife at his birth. Even for the wonderworking Brigid, this would have been a great feat, as she was born in the fifth century. Yet in a culture in which the bond of fostering was often stronger than the bond of blood, this notion reveals something of the deep esteem that Brigid attracted, and it’s a way of describing how she helped to prepare a way for Christ as the Christian faith took root in Ireland. A particularly lovely legend tells that St. Brigid, upon seeing Herod’s soldiers enter the city to slaughter the young boys, quickly fashioned a wreath of candles. Placing it upon her head, she began to dance, distracting the soldiers and allowing the Holy Family to flee to safety.

On this feast day, Brigid’s legend and the story of the slaughter of the innocents calls me to consider what I’m doing, or need to do, to help protect those who suffer most in our world. As I rest for a bit in this Christmas season, as I linger with what the season continues to offer, how might this be a time of discernment and preparation for the work that lies ahead?

What’s stirring for you as we move through the Christmas season? What might this Twelve-Days-Feast have yet to offer you in the way of both delights and questions for your path ahead?

If you didn’t have occasion to visit The Advent Door during the past weeks, I invite you to stop by there as we move through these lingering days of Christmas. As we journey toward Epiphany, may you find in these days a continued celebration and the sustenance you need to walk in the way of Christ, the Word made flesh. Blessings and peace to you!

[To use this image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Anticipating Advent

November 9, 2009

Advent11
Magnificat © Jan L. Richardson

Today has found me in the studio, working on some artwork for the cover of my new book. Amid the intensity of writing, I haven’t spent a lot of time in the studio in recent months, so it was lovely to clear off my drafting table today and play amongst the paints. As I wrap up the book and begin to contemplate the coming season of Advent, I’m looking forward to creating new art and reflections for my blog The Advent Door. I just published my first post of the year over there, with a few pre-Advent thoughts; I invite you to stop by. (And don’t miss the announcement there about the festive Advent discount on annual subscriptions at janrichardsonimages.com!)

Even though I’m someone who gives a lot of thought to Advent, I still often find that it catches me unprepared and that it seems altogether too short. Especially given what an intense year this has been with working on the book, I’m trying to get a jump on things and give some thought now to how I want to enter into the coming season. I don’t have a clear plan as of yet—and Advent tends to resist too much planning anyway—but I’m starting to envision some things that invite me to linger and savor and be: a good walk, a visit with a friend over a cup of tea, a stolen afternoon with a tasty book…

How do you hope to enter Advent this year? When we arrive at Christmas, what do you want to be able to look back on? What will help you stop and savor the coming season and open your eyes to the Christ who comes to us amongst these days?

As we anticipate Advent, may we also linger well with these present hours. Blessings to you.

Inviting Epiphany

December 30, 2008

wisewomenalsocame
Wise Women Also Came © Jan L. Richardson

I’m working on a reflection for the gospel lection for Epiphany, but in the meantime, I offer you this festive trio to get the celebration under way. Wise Women Also Came was one of the first collages I did when I started to discover, many years ago, that there was an artist lurking in me. I created this as my Epiphany (i.e., belated Christmas) card the year I graduated from seminary. I made it out of plain construction paper; this was before I had discovered the wondrous world of art papers. (A trip to The Japanese Paper Place, now simply called The Paper Place, while visiting my sister in Toronto changed all that; you could say that walking into its stunning space was, well, an epiphany.)

These wise women made their way onto the cover of my first book, which I was writing during the same time that I was getting to know my inner artist. They also made an appearance in Night Visions, my first book to wed my writing and my artwork. This time a poem accompanied the women:

Wise Women Also Came

Wise women also came.
The fire burned
in their wombs
long before they saw
the flaming star
in the sky.
They walked in shadows,
trusting the path
would open
under the light of the moon.

Wise women also came,
seeking no directions,
no permission
from any king.
They came
by their own authority,
their own desire,
their own longing.
They came in quiet,
spreading no rumors,
sparking no fears
to lead
to innocents’ slaughter,
to their sister Rachel’s
inconsolable lamentations.

Wise women also came,
and they brought
useful gifts:
water for labor’s washing,
fire for warm illumination,
a blanket for swaddling.

Wise women also came,
at least three of them,
holding Mary in the labor,
crying out with her
in the birth pangs,
breathing ancient blessings
into her ear.

Wise women also came,
and they went,
as wise women always do,
home a different way.

Next week, in the wake of an intense season of travels and other endeavors, I’ll resume working on a new book. It’s something of a sequel to Sacred Journeys, the book I was writing when these wise women took shape. Though I rarely find writing easy (when folks ask me if I enjoy writing, I usually say, “I enjoy having written”), I’m looking forward to reentering the rhythm of working on a book in a focused fashion. It seems an opportune time to revisit these wise women as I seek a blessing for the path, and the book, ahead. I wonder who will show up this time, and what epiphanies they will have in store.

Who have been the wise women in your life? What epiphanies have they instigated? Here at the ending of the year, what wisdom do you want to gather up from the past twelve months and take with you into the coming year? What blessing, what gifts, do you need to receive for the path ahead? What gifts do you need to offer, that only you can give?

Peace to you in this time of turning.

[To use this image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Merry (Continued) Christmas!

December 26, 2008

presentationinthetemple
Presentation the Temple © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Christmas 1: Luke 2.22-40

A blessed Feast of St. Stephen and a Happy Boxing Day to you! Advent tends to be such an intense season for me that this year I find myself particularly grateful that Christmas is not just one day, concluding at midnight last night (at which point the radio station I was listening to abruptly ceased its Christmas music) but rather a period of twelve days. There’s some variation as to when the Twelve Days of Christmas begin; some say Christmas night, others begin counting on December 26; regardless, it’s finished by Epiphany on January 6. The point, however, is that Christmas invites us to not wrap up our celebration of the Incarnation too quickly.

This period offers us several feast days that add texture to the season. Two of them commemorate folks who were important in the life of the early church; today is the Feast of St. Stephen (the first Christian martyr), and tomorrow is the Feast of St. John the Evangelist (to whom the fourth gospel is attributed). December 28 offers us the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which bids us remember Matthew’s story of the slaughter of the male children in Bethlehem. This feast in particular calls us to acknowledge the shadow side of Christmas and to be mindful of our call to relieve the suffering that persists even amid the joy of the Incarnation.

This year, as I recover from the blessed intensities of the Advent season, I’m giving particular thought to how I might linger in my celebration of Christmas, how I might find some festive rest in these days. In this period between Christmas Day and Epiphany, are there any practices I might take on that would help me savor this season? Might those practices become new traditions in my own observance of the fullness of Christmas?

In the spirit of seeking some rest in this time, my reflection on the lectionary this week will be abbreviated. This Sunday the Revised Common Lectionary gives us Luke 2.22-40 for our gospel reading. Luke tells us of how Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple, which, according to the law, would have occurred forty days after Jesus’ birth. They went not only to present Jesus but also for Mary to go through the prescribed rituals of purification following a birth. In the Temple they meet the prophets Simeon and Anna, who have long waited for this moment.

When I created a mixed media series called The Advent Hours a few years ago, I included a depiction of this moment in the Temple; it’s the image above (somewhat cropped for my purposes here). In creating it, I borrowed from medieval artists who rendered this scene, particularly the artists whose illuminated prayerbooks inspired this series. This is what I wrote to accompany my version of the Presentation in the Temple:

A light for revelation, Simeon says of Jesus when Mary and Joseph go to the temple to engage in the rituals required after the birth of a child. Medieval artists sometimes conflated the Presentation in the Temple with the Circumcision of Jesus, which would have happened several weeks previously. Although Simeon wouldn’t have actually held the knife, as these medieval artists sometimes depict, he has cutting words nonetheless: And a sword will pierce your own soul, too, he says to Mary. Then the prophet Anna arrives, and she sings of redemption, and perhaps Mary remembers: A light, he said; a light for revelation. A luminous Word.

So how might these Christmas days invite you to linger with the luminous Word whose birth we are not done celebrating? Where do you find yourself in the wake of December 25th? What were the gifts of Advent? What were the challenges? What do you need now? How will you get it?

December 26 finds me feeling both sentimental and expectant. Not to mention tired. But recovering. In the wee hours of yesterday morning, I posted my final reflection for this year’s journey toward Christmas at The Advent Door. As with last year, publishing my Christmas reflection, and ending the Advent pilgrimage, offered a poignant mix of relief and regret. Intense as they are—and in part because of their very intensity—I love the days of Advent, love diving into their richness and finding what new words and images they have yet to offer me. I’m always a little sorry to see those days go. But—they’ll come around again next year, inviting us once again to find new gifts in the ancient story of the Word that came, and comes still, as light and life.

If you didn’t make it all the way through The Advent Door, I invite you to pay a visit there as we move through these lingering days of Christmas. Until Advent rolls around again next year, I look forward to finding what the coming months have to offer and exploring that here at The Painted Prayerbook. I am grateful beyond measure for your presence on the path.

Merry (Twelve Days of) Christmas to you, and a wondrous new year ahead!

‘Tis the Season!

November 23, 2008

During the season of Advent, I’ll be posting at The Advent Door instead of here. Please click on The Advent Door, and have a wondrous season!