Archive for the ‘food’ Category


July 24, 2011

A Gracious Plenty © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Year A, Proper 13/Ordinary 18/Pentecost +7 (July 31): Matthew 14.13-21

This week finds me preparing to leave for my beloved Grünewald Guild, a remarkable retreat center located in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Devoted to exploring and celebrating the connections between art and faith, the Guild is a place of sanctuary for me—a place where I “find my tribe,” as my artist friend Peg Carlson-Hoffman (one of the folks who first introduced me to the Guild nearly a decade ago) puts it. And it is a place of sustenance, where there is nourishment that feeds my soul throughout the rest of the year, when creative community is more challenging to come by in my daily life.

I’ll be serving as the keynote speaker and pastor in residence for the Guild’s Liturgical Arts Week, which will take place August 1-7.  Our theme for the week is Garden, Table, Story. I am terribly excited about the delicious theme and the connections amongst garden and table and story that we’ll be exploring and savoring in those days. We have a fantastic faculty for the week—visual artists Laurie Clarke and Kristen Gilje plus my singer/songwriter husband, Garrison Doles, who will be teaching a sacred storytelling class. Though focusing in particular on the rich symbolism and liturgy of the Eucharist/Communion as it takes place in worshiping communities, we’ll be giving lots of attention to how we find the presence of the sacred at many different tables, and how we find our way to the table in the first place. The Guild’s lovely garden, which feeds us in body and soul each summer, will be a major player all week as we savor its gifts and explore the imagery that gardens provide.

I’m pleased to be heading for the Guild with the taste of this week’s gospel reading in my mouth. The feeding of the five thousand (plus) is a story that reminds us of how Christ is so persistent in calling us to the feast, even in those places where there are no actual tables at hand. The story draws our attention and imaginations to how Christ spins the miraculous from the mundane and provides abundance where, to our eyes, there seems only lack. The tale of the feeding bids us remember how little it sometimes takes to make a feast, and that where there is blessing, there is enough. And then some.

Blessing of Enough

I know how small
this blessing seems;
just a morsel
that hardly matches
the sharp hunger
you carry inside you.

But trust me
when I say—
though I can scarcely
believe it myself—
that between
and behind
and beneath
these words
there is a space

where a table
has been laid
a feast
has been prepared
all has been
made ready
for you
and it will be
and more.

P.S. For a previous reflection on this passage, visit A Gracious Plenty. And if you’d like to take a last-minute trip to the Cascade Mountains and linger with us in the garden and at the table and with the story, we have a few spots still available at the Liturgical Arts Week—come join us! More info here at the Guild’s website.

Also, I just launched a completely redesigned website at a few days ago—I’d love for you to come by and visit! Pull up a chair, I’ll pour you a cup of tea…

Easter 3: Known

May 5, 2011

Image: Emmaus © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter 3: Luke 24.13-35

Then they told what had happened on the road,
and how he had been made known to them
in the breaking of the bread.
—Luke 24.35

Everything in this passage, it seems, can be summed up in this verse, where the two who walked with the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus tell of how they finally recognized him in the breaking of bread. And this is where Christ shows up again and again: at the table where we gather, in the bread that we break. In the feast and in the simple fare, his presence persists and his blessing abides: waiting for us, staying with us, hungering to be known. May we taste and see.

As we travel with Christ in this season of resurrection, how will we approach our tables, our meals, and one another in a way that will open our eyes and help us to see and to know the Christ who lingers with us?

Emmaus Blessing

Already a blessing
in the walking

already a blessing
on the road

already a blessing
drawing near

already a blessing
in the listening

already a blessing
in the burning hearts

already a blessing
in the almost evening

already a blessing
in the staying

already a blessing
at the table

already a blessing
in the bread

already a blessing
in the breaking

already a blessing
finally known

already a blessing
give us eyes

already a blessing
let us see.

—Jan Richardson

P.S. For a previous reflection on this text, see Easter 3: Comfort Food. And for a Mother’s Day reflection and blessing, visit Mother’s Day: Blessing the Mothers.

Bonus round: For a blessing for your ears, click the player below to hear the song “On this Road,” which was inspired by the Emmaus story. It’s by my husband, Garrison Doles, from his CD Draw Us Closer.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the “Emmaus” image, please visit this page at (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 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.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Epiphany 3: Catch of the Day

January 16, 2011

Fresh Rainbow Trout © Scott Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Epiphany 3, Year A (January 23): Matthew 4.12-23

Summer nights, Granddaddy would stand at the white enameled table on the back porch of the lake house, cleaning the fish he had caught that day. There was a rhythm to it as he removed the heads, scraped the scales, gutted the fish, sliced the fillets that would later be fried along with the hush puppies that Mommaw made in the small kitchen of the lake house. As a young girl, I once asked Granddaddy for the eyes of a trout he was cleaning; I thought they were like jewels. I still remember the crinkle of his nose as he declined my request (to his credit, without laughing), telling me the eyes would soon stink.

More than three decades later, the blade of my grandfather’s knife glints across next Sunday’s gospel passage. I find it difficult, after all, not to imagine the logical conclusion to Jesus’ call to the fraternal fishermen: “Follow me,” he says to Simon and his brother Andrew, “and I will make you fish for people.” And likewise to Simon and Andrew’s fishing colleagues James and his brother John, who immediately leave their boats, their nets, their father.

We know what happens to fish once they’re caught. And so how do we avoid wondering what the outcome of our fishing—or of our being netted—will be? How not to think of Christ standing at a white enameled table, his blade poised over the day’s catch? Or of ourselves, helpless beneath the gutting knife?

Yet it is no logical call that Jesus extends. To be sure, following Christ can, at times, leave us feeling filleted. The gospels and other writings of the New Testament have plenty to say about the losses and leave-takings involved in pursuing Christ, the letting go that he asks of us, the dying to all that is not of God. As Simon—soon to become Peter—and his fellow fisherfolk would learn, taking up with Jesus would not place them on a logical path with a predictable end. Jesus, in calling them to a different kind of fishing, likewise had a different sort of result in mind, though not without its hazards.

The image of the fish, so pervasive in the Gospels and in the early centuries of Christianity, often appeared as a symbol of life, of resurrection, of the miraculous, as Gail Ramshaw notes in her (must-have) book Treasures Old and New. Think of the feeding of the five thousand, or the stunning catch the disciples bring in after a long night of empty nets; think of the fish bake that Jesus shares with his disciples after his resurrection. The fish even became a symbol of Christ himself, owing, in part, to the fact that the Greek word for fish, icthus, is an acrostic for the title Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.

Christ means for us to share in the life and resurrection and presence of the miraculous that attends his path. We find a clue to this, a sign of this, within the placement of this passage. Jesus’ call to the fishermen falls close on the heels of his baptism in the Jordan, which we have just commemorated. I think of medieval images of John’s baptism of Jesus; of how, in so many of the depictions, the waters of the Jordan rise up to meet Jesus. And in those medieval paintings, fish swim in the baptismal waters, leaping in the presence of the drenched Messiah. (For one such image, see this page from a 13th-century English psalter.)

And we who share in Christ’s baptism are likewise gathered up in the life-giving waters. He draws us not for death and destruction, nor for mere consumption, but rather to find sustenance in the waters of baptism and in the presence of Christ, who offers living water. We see this notion in the Treatise on Baptism by Tertullian, from which Gail Ramshaw quotes in her reflection on fish imagery in the scriptures: “We, little fishes,” writes the early church father, “after the example of our icthus Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water.”

Though following after Christ will bring its perils and parings, and the gleam of the knife casts its presence yet across this passage, the knife does not have the final word. As this lection begins with words of hope, so does it end. Opening with Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah’s stunning words about light and life coming to those who have sat in darkness and death, the passage closes by telling of how he “went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” It is for life, finally, that Christ gathers us up; it is for wholeness that he sends us out.

Where does this week’s gospel leave you? What draws you to Christ? What sustenance do you find with him? Are there times you feel like you’re under the fisherman’s knife, and what do you do with this? As you contemplate Christ’s own call to you, in your own specific context and vocation, what images arise for you? What symbols capture the life and wholeness that Christ desires for us—for you?

I’m pleased to have a guest artist this week: my brother, Scott Richardson, who, along with our lifelong friend Lee Deaderick, owns a seafood market called Northwest Seafood in Gainesville, Florida. (Check them out at Northwest Seafood; these “Fanatics of Freshness” will ship anywhere in the U.S.! You can also find them on Facebook.) My artful brother makes the signs that hang in their store window. I have coveted these signs, and Scott gifted me with one last year. As we ponder the piscine passage this week, it’s a treat to share Scott’s sign with you.

In the coming days, may Christ gather you up, bless you with the depths of his love, and sustain you as you follow him. Blessings.

For a previous reflection on this passage, visit Epiphany 3: In Which We Visit Our Inner Library.

And for my reflection on Mark’s account of this story, see Epiphany 3: Hooked.

Of Supper and Saints

September 29, 2009

Thanks for stopping by…I’m still alive and kicking and up to my eyeballs working on the book. But we have a festive weekend coming up, and I didn’t want to let it pass without making note of a couple festivities and inviting you to stop by the reflections that I offered on them last year. The entries may be reheated, but they’re still full of flavor, so come sit for a spell and have a savory taste…


This Sunday, October 4, is World Communion Sunday. For my reflection from last year, visit The Best Supper.


This Sunday also brings us the Feast of St. Francis. I invite you to visit Feast of St. Francis for my earlier reflection on one of my favorite saints.

Many blessings to you in this week of celebration!

The Gastronomical Jesus

July 27, 2009

The Welcome Table © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Year B, Proper 13/Ordinary 18/Pentecost +9: John 6.24-35

Following up on last week’s reading, the gospel lection for this Sunday offers us another image of provision and plenitude that come through Christ. Last week we saw him turn a couple of fish and five loaves of bread into a feast for the masses; this week he talks about his own being as bread: bread of God, bread of heaven, bread of life.

In the wake of last week’s stunning feeding, John tells us that the crowd dogs Jesus’ trail, with the air of people looking for seconds. When they catch up with him, Jesus tells them they are looking for him “not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes,” he cautions them, “but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

Jesus is clear in calling them to discern the difference between what fills the belly and what fills the soul. At the same time, he well understands the ways that the hungers of the body and the hungers of the soul intertwine, and how both are at play when it comes to food. This is, after all, the man who so loved to share a meal—with all sorts of companions—that his critics called him “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7.34). When he wants to convey the essence of who he really is, in word and in action, it is to food, to the gifts of the earth, that Jesus turns. Wheat. Bread. Wine. In his hands, food is more than food; it is an enduring symbol of, and gift from, the one who offers his very being to meet our deepest hunger and our keenest thirst. Yet it is food nonetheless.

The famed food writer M.F.K. Fisher offers a passage that captures the ways that hungers of body and soul, and the feeding of them, are bound together. In the introduction to her book The Gastronomical Me, first published in 1943, she writes,

People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do?

They ask it accusingly, as if I were somehow gross, unfaithful to the honor of my craft.

The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it…and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied…and it is all one.

I tell about myself, and how I ate bread on a lasting hillside, or drank red wine in a room now blown to bits, and it happens without my willing it that I am telling too about the people with me then, and their other deeper needs for love and happiness.

There is food in the bowl, and more often than not, because of what honesty I have, there is nourishment in the heart, to feed the wilder, more insistent hungers. We must eat. If, in the face of that dread fact, we can find other nourishment and tolerance and compassion for it, we’ll be no less full of human dignity.

There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love?

I find myself thinking, too, of Simone Weil, who wrote, in her book Waiting for God, “The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.”

What are you hungry for these days? What does your relationship with food have to say about your relationship with God—and vice versa? Are there meals that hold memories of connection and communion? Do you have habits of eating, or not eating, that reveal a soul-hunger that needs God’s healing?

May the Bread of Life, who knew the pleasures of the table, feed you well in these days. Blessings.

P.S. Deep thanks to those offering prayers and blessings as I work to finish writing my book. Know that I am tremendously grateful for every good thought and prayer that comes my way; they are manna indeed on this intense journey!

[To use this image, please visit this page at For a print, visit Color Prints at Thanks!]

Eat this Book

February 14, 2009


During the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent some time in the bookbindery (a.k.a. my dining/kitchen/studio table), working to replenish the supply of books that I’ve published through my small press. With Lent just around the bend, I’ve been particularly focused on shoring up my stock of my book Garden of Hollows: Entering the Mysteries of Lent & Easter. Drawing on the texts and images that the Lenten season gives us, Garden of Hollows invites readers to contemplate their lives in the light—and shadows—of the stories that lead us toward resurrection.

I established Wanton Gospeller Press in order to create small, intimate, artful books of a sort that traditional publishing houses typically can’t offer. Although I’m continuing to work with publishing houses, I’m grateful to have a pathway that enables me to develop my own vision for a book and handle its production from start to finish. I do virtually the whole shebang myself: writing, artwork, design, making the covers, and binding the books. The process is labor intensive, but I enjoy the rhythm and being engaged in each step of bringing a book into the world.

With this round of book making, I’ve added a couple of new, artful elements, including gorgeous endpapers made of mango papers that come from Thailand. The paper is beautiful, translucent, and has mango leaf inclusions, as you can see in a couple of the photos above. I’ve selected a different mango paper for each of my Wanton Gospeller editions; for Garden of Hollows I chose a lovely pale green.

My sweetheart Gary says using mango paper is a good choice, as readers can eat the endpapers if they start feeling peckish along the way. That’s actually a great image for these books, and for the process of lectio divina (sacred reading) that gave rise to them. The Dominican nun who first taught me about lectio sometimes calls it lectio bovina, in respect of the way that this form of reading invites us to chew and chew on a sacred text until we gain the nourishment it has to offer. Garden of Hollows grew from a long process of ruminating on the sacred stories of the coming season. I pray that this book, in turn, offers some of the sustenance that I have found.

I would love to share these Wanton Gospeller Press books with you! For more information and book excerpts, click on Wanton Gospeller Press, where you can order either from or directly from me.

Happy munching!

Epiphany 3: Hooked

January 24, 2009

The Willing Catch © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Epiphany 3, Year B: Mark 1.14-20

Thomas Merton, the famed Trappist monk of the 20th century, once took a picture that he titled “The Only Known Photograph of God.”

The picture was of a meat hook.

I keep thinking of this stark image, and Merton’s title, as I ponder this Sunday’s gospel lection, in which Mark offers his version of Jesus’ call to the kindred fishermen Simon and Andrew. “Follow me,” Jesus says, “and I will make you fish for people.” His invitation stirs the unsettling question: if fish are food, a catch intended for consumption, then what is it that we people are to God, once we fall into the net of the divine?

Long before the arrival of Jesus, the Jewish tradition had taken pains, in the form of the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac, to make clear that Yahweh doesn’t require human sacrifice. The God of Israel presents other conditions for right relationship, as we read, for instance, in Micah 6, where the question arises: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?…Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” “…and what does the Lord require of you,” comes the response, “but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly before your God?”

I wonder if the people of Israel ever wondered if human sacrifice might be easier, after all, than all this justice and kindness stuff.

It can feel consuming, being in relationship with God: it requires so much more of our very selves than simply offering a sacrifice that’s detached from us. And for all that it asks of us, our participation in God doesn’t offer much in the way of earthly security, as Mark reminds us: this lection begins with a mention of the arrest of John the Baptist, who would soon meet his earthly end in the context of a meal.

It’s challenging at times to reconcile the seeming paradox that giving ourselves to a God of love and mercy does not always protect us from heartache and suffering; in fact, it sometimes does just the opposite. Called to engage the world, we find ourselves drawn more deeply into the pain and despair present there—along with (thank God) the delight. In each place Christ calls us to notice and to embody the presence and love of God: to be the living body of Christ, who spoke of his own self as food, as sustenance.

As Merton recognized, it can leave us feeling like we’re on the meat hook of God, the way that God claims and hungers for our deepest selves and sends us into the world to be Christ’s body, to offer his sustenance. Given what a consuming, demanding, and sometimes perilous prospect it can be to share fully in the life of Christ, one might well wonder: what compels us to follow him?

What lures you to Christ? What is it about him that beckons you, calls to you, compels you not only to follow him but also to reach out in invitation to others? What is it about Jesus that hooks you?

In a culture that too often tries to scare and threaten us into a relationship with Christ, may we see clearly who he is and embody his fierce and sustaining love in a desperately hungry world. Blessings.

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

The Best Supper

October 3, 2008

The Best Supper © Jan L. Richardson

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday. Established by the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1936 and originally called World Wide Communion Sunday, this day beckons us to be mindful that when we gather at the table, we celebrate not only with those present but also with sisters and brothers around the world.

The artwork above is a piece called The Best Supper. Inspired by the image of Wisdom’s Feast in Proverbs 9, this piece evokes the myriad meals that have fed me in body and soul. As I created this image, I was visited by memories of so many of the tables where I have found hospitality. Those memories are embedded among the pieces of this collage. Circling the table once again, I capture glimpses of those with whom I shared those sacred meals. I remember how we savored every scrap, how we lingered long after the last bite was consumed.

Table Blessing

To your table
you bid us come.
You have set the places,
you have poured the wine,
and there is always room,
you say,
for one more.

And so we come.
From the streets
and from the alleys
we come.

From the deserts
and from the hills
we come.

From the ravages of poverty
and from the palaces of privilege
we come.

we come.

We are bloodied with our wars,
we are wearied with our wounds,
we carry our dead within us,
and we reckon with their ghosts.

We hold the seeds of healing,
we dream of a new creation,
we know the things
that make for peace,
and we struggle to give them wings.

And yet, to your table
we come.
Hungering for your bread,
we come;
thirsting for your wine,
we come;
singing your song
in every language,
speaking your name
in every tongue,
in conflict and in communion,
in discord and in desire,
we come,
O God of Wisdom,
we come

Prayer © Jan L. Richardson from In Wisdom’s Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season.

Thanks to everyone who has requested permission to use this blessing or “The Best Supper” artwork. For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use the blessing without requesting permission; all that’s needed is to include a line with this info:

© Jan L. Richardson.

To use “The Best Supper” image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

Prints of The Best Supper and other images are available by visiting the Art Prints page at We have greeting cards, too!

Where God Grows

September 21, 2008

Where God Grows © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Year A, Proper 21/Ordinary 26/Pentecost +15: Matthew 21.23-32

My sweetheart Gary and I spent much of this past week leading a retreat for a wondrous group of folks who were recently commissioned as ministers in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. The retreat took place in Lake Wales at Bok Tower and Gardens, a piece of paradise about an hour and a half south of my home. I hadn’t been there since I was a young child. The first couple of days, I had a vague awareness that something seemed enchanting and familiar about the landscape in that part of the state. Then it struck me: it was the orange groves.

I grew up in north central Florida, in a small community that has preserved the landscape of “old Florida” in a fashion that has become rare. I’m a native Floridian several generations over; my great-grandfather was one of the settlers of the town I grew up in. With his sons he established a farm that remains in operation, and that has helped the town to preserve its rural landscape.

For decades, citrus was one of the mainstays of the farm, and it pervaded the culture of that region. Acres of groves stretched through my hometown and the surrounding area. Just to the south of us were groves whose owner had a citrus shop on the highway that looked out over Orange Lake. (A sign outside the shop proclaimed, “See the famous red bats!” Walking a little way into the grove by the shop, one would come to a small cage that contained…two red baseball bats.) At Silver Springs, a longtime attraction in nearby Ocala, the gift shop offered a plethora of citrus-related items, including pottery infused with the scent of orange blossoms.

Navel oranges were my favorite, and winter always found a bag or two of them stashed outside our back door, staying cool through the season. Fresh orange juice made frequent appearances at our breakfast table, and I loved it when Dad would take a sharp knife, peel an orange and slice it in half for me, and I would sink my teeth into its flesh.

Winter also brought the threat of freezing temperatures and the call that would come late at night, summoning all hands to fire the groves. Too young to join in, I envied my older sister and brother who got to participate in what I imagined to be the excitement of lighting the kerosene heaters that preserved the trees in those freezing nights. I assumed there would be a time when I would be old enough to go.

In the 1980s, a particularly bad freeze hit the groves. The heaters were not enough. We lost the trees, and the landscape of my hometown was forever altered. At the time, I had little awareness of what a loss it was. But these days I miss the presence of the flourishing groves. Even here in Orlando, located in “Orange” County a couple hours south of my hometown, citrus groves are hard to come by, many of them having given way to housing developments. Still, memories of the groves of my childhood linger in my imagination. Visiting Lake Wales this week stirred those memories, conjuring that landscape both real and mythic where the roots of my history remain.

My experience of those citrus groves helps me grasp the presence of the vineyard in next Sunday’s gospel lection. Matthew 21.23-32 is the second in a series of three lections containing parables about vineyards. The repetition got me intrigued and set me to pondering the place of the vineyard not only in this section of Matthew’s gospel but also in the whole of scripture. What is it that Jesus is calling upon here, in his repeated use of this image as a dramatic setting for his storytelling?

In Jesus’ time, the vineyard held a place in the culture that was not only real, being so prevalent in the landscape in that part of the world, but also mythic; it tapped into the people’s collective imagination with a constellation of meanings and associations. In the Bible, vines and vineyards stand for the people of Israel, as in Psalm 80, where the psalmist writes of how God brought a vine out of Egypt, and Isaiah 5, where, in a passage called “The Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard,” the prophet laments, “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” Vineyards can be a place of danger; Judges 21 offers the chilling story of how men of the tribe of Benjamin hide themselves in the vineyards of Shiloh, emerging to capture the young women who have come out to dance, and carrying them off as wives. And vineyards are a place of delight, which is nowhere as evident as in the Song of Songs: “Come, my beloved,” the bride sings in chapter 7, “…let us go out early to the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded….”

The vineyard offers elemental metaphors of fertility and fruitfulness. It is, at times, a profoundly feminine image, as in the Song of Songs, where it becomes identified with the bride’s own body. The vineyard is a place where both labor and love take place. Though it may be a place of harm, as we will see with particular clarity in next week’s gospel lection, it is a space where right relation becomes possible, as evidenced between the lovers in the Song, between God and the people of Israel, and, as we will see in John’s gospel, between Jesus and his followers (“I am the vine, you are the branches”).

For Jesus’ hearers, the vineyard grew not only in the landscape of their daily lives but also in a mythic landscape that stretched back for generations: the book of Genesis tells us that Noah was the first to plant a vineyard. Its tendrils also twined forward into a future where redemption would take place: “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,” God says in Amos 9.14; “…they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine….”

In setting this trio of parables in vineyards, Jesus subtly conjures all these associations. Though his hearers likely would not have consciously thought of each of these layers of meaning as he told these stories, the fact that the image of the vineyard was deeply embedded in their personal and collective memory would have shaped their reception of these parables.

All this has me wondering about how we hear the parables of Jesus in a context where so many of us live so distant from the settings that grounded his stories. I’ve spent little time in vineyards, save for the small bower of muscadine and scuppernong grapes that grew in my grandparents’ yard. Having grown up among the groves, however, I can appreciate how a landscape roots itself in one’s imagination, how it intertwines with personal and shared history, how it can be so easily evoked decades later, how it helps me enter into certain stories.

How do we hear these sacred stories that are rooted in an agrarian landscape that fewer and fewer of us inhabit? How do we receive the imagery of the Bible when we are cut off from so many of the sources that imbue those images with meaning? Think of them: not only vineyards, but also pastures, flocks, wellsprings, gardens, fields. And not only agrarian images, but other images as well that speak to what it means to be community together. What does the idea of church as a household mean, when home life for many folks is a fragmented experience? And what does the table of Communion conjure, when families eat in shifts as their schedules demand, or when we eat alone?

It would be easy, perhaps, to slide into a rant about how we’ve lost the sources that nourish our imagination, to lament how so much of our 21st century culture has divorced itself from the landscapes, both real and metaphorical, that cultivate a mythic memory. I’m not particularly interested in ranting here (though I’m not above tilting into a good one once in a while). I’m more interested in asking questions about how we in the church work to create spaces and rituals that cultivate the imagination, that nourish and call on our collective memory, that lay down the layers of sensory experience that help us connect with the sacred stories our tradition gives us.

I am alarmed by churches that, in an attempt to be welcoming to newcomers, strip their spaces of the symbols and rituals that link us to our shared story. I understand and affirm the desire to create a hospitable space for those who are unfamiliar with the terrain, but I don’t think we do this best by erasing the environment that helps evoke the stories.

We don’t tell the story well by trying to be overly efficient about it, either. I was talking recently with someone who lamented how her church rarely celebrates Communion, out of a belief that there’s “not enough time” to give to this central ritual that, when well done, engages every one of our senses, and thereby takes hold of us in a way that hearing alone, or seeing alone, cannot.

In a culture where so many of us are separated from the experiences and images that imbued Jesus’ hearers with understanding, our church communities can be places that provide other kinds of experiences that still link our senses, our memories, and our imaginations with our sacred texts. How do we draw one another into the mythic spaces that the scriptures offer? How do we ground one another’s hearing and reading of these scriptures in experiences that involve our seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting? How do we cultivate a landscape that lingers in the memory like a vineyard, a grove, a space that, decades later, can still conjure a connection with the Divine who dwells both in the imagination and in daily life?

In telling this parable about the father who asks his sons to work in the vineyard, Jesus makes the poetic and prophetic point that the kingdom of God is open to all, including those whom many of Jesus’ hearers would have considered unworthy: prostitutes, tax collectors. He insists that even—and especially—those who have spent most of their lives pursuing other intentions belong in this space of redemption, relationship, fruitfulness, and delight. For all its seeming orderliness, the vineyard is a place of God’s wild grace. Perhaps only those who know the deep, unsated hunger that the world instills can ever, finally, understand and receive that.

In our 21st century world, how do we convey this kind of grace that God extends to all? How do we describe and evoke the ways that God calls us to give ourselves not only to the labor but also the delight that the image of the vineyard conjures? How does this parable resonate in your own memory and imagination? With what images, practices, and rituals do you invite others to connect with our sacred stories?

These aren’t rhetorical questions; I’d love to hear how you do this, or how you long to. It seems an especially fruitful time to ponder these questions in this month when, in the northern hemisphere, the harvesting of wine grapes is taking place, often accompanied with festivals. (The fact of which gave rise to September’s full moon being known as the “Wine Moon” in some quarters.) In this season, may the wild grace of God make itself known through all your senses. Blessings.

[To use the “Where God Grows” image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

The Feast Beneath

August 15, 2008

The Feast Beneath © Jan L. Richardson

It took a couple of days to get here, but I’ve made my way back from my sojourn at The Grünewald Guild. My travels home included hitching a ride from the Guild with a friend who lives near Seattle. En route we stopped by her sister’s home and had a mid-afternoon meal that involved homemade tortillas and salsa, courtesy of her in-laws who were visiting from Texas, yum. Midway through the meal we were joined by a gaggle of girls—my friend’s nieces and their cohorts. One of the girls was sporting a decorative Band-Aid, and another commented on how the Band-Aid had migrated from her lower arm to her upper arm. Another girl said the Band-aid was for an imaginary wound. The girl next to me, all of ten years old, dryly observed, “Yeah, those things hurt.”

I’m not sure when it happened, probably because it evolved so slowly, but somewhere in my adulthood I began to discern that motherhood was not part of my calling in life. When it comes to children, I’ve worked instead to cultivate being The Odd Aunt, and I am navigating the delights and challenges that come in sharing a life with a man who has a teenage son. Still, I get a twinge once in a while, like when I sat at that table of splendid girls on my way home from the Guild, and I wonder for a moment what the path of parenthood might have been like.

Had I become a mother, I hope I would have shared some of the qualities of the one we meet in this week’s gospel lection, Matthew 15.(10-20), 21-28. This Canaanite woman, whose name has gone unrecorded, offers an intriguing contrast to last week’s gospel reading. Where the storm-tossed disciples found it difficult to recognize and know Jesus, the Canaanite mother is replete with the gift of sight. Like so many women in the gospels, she recognizes Jesus, sees him, knows full well what he can do.

This Canaanite mother calls upon Jesus in his role as the Son of David to help her daughter, whom she says is tormented by a demon. For all her fervor, Jesus meets her shouting with silence. She has stirred up the disciples, however. As on previous occasions, they petition Jesus to send away someone who is making them uncomfortable. Yet unlike the instances involving children and hungry people, where Jesus stepped in to take action, he assumes here a stance of indifference. When Jesus finally speaks, it is to claim that he has been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

It is not enough for this desperate mother. She kneels before him, saying simply, “Lord, help me.”

To the woman’s plea, Jesus responds, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” In the absence of hearing Jesus’ inflection and seeing his face, it’s difficult to discern how he intends these words. Is he weary by this point and short of temper? Is his human side feeling overwhelmed by the work that yet remains for him within the house of Israel, let alone the world beyond this house? Or does he know full well what this mother is made of, and chooses to use this as a teaching moment and an opportunity to match wits with a worthy opponent?

Whatever Jesus’ intent, it’s hard to avoid hearing the insult that lurks within his words. The woman, however, refuses to be dissuaded. Rather than hearing Jesus’ response as a barrier, she uses it as a doorway.

The woman is kneeling before Jesus, but she is not merely a supplicant. She is poised to wrestle a blessing from him. She is in a stance designed to disarm Jesus, to sweep him from his feet. She is in a posture from which she can look for crumbs and, from them, make a feast. She knows there’s one here somewhere for her and for her daughter.

She knows that Jesus knows this, too. She knows that Jesus carries abundance with him. It hasn’t been so long since he presided at the feeding of more than five thousand women, children, and men. She can smell the feast on him, the scent of the crumbs that cling to him.

“Yes, Lord,” the Canaanite woman responds to Jesus, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

This woman knows there is a whole other world beneath the table. She recognizes that beyond the tabletop of privilege, there is yet a place for her and the daughter whom she is desperate to save. Taking what lies beneath the table, the woman makes a feast. And in that place, the unnamed woman becomes a celebrant. She leaves with the blessing she has wrestled from Jesus; she leaves with a healing for her daughter.

Though I may not be a mother, the encounter between the Canaanite woman and Jesus challenges me to ponder what I’m feeling fierce about in my own life, and to what lengths I’m willing to go in order to save and preserve what lies within my care. How about you? What are you feeling fierce about in your own life? For what are you willing to cry out and challenge Jesus? Do you believe he can stretch himself to help you? What is the blessing that you need to wrestle from him?

Peace to you as you search for what will sustain you and all that is within your care.

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