Archive for the ‘Gospel of Luke’ Category

Lent 1: A Return to the Wilderness

February 11, 2013

For my Ash Wednesday reflection, please see Ash Wednesday: Blessing the Dust

Reading from the Gospels, Lent 1, Year C: Luke 4.1-13

Almost Lent! As I shared in my previous post, during the coming season I’ll be devoting most of my creative energies to the online retreat that Gary and I will be offering, and we’d love to journey with you in this way. If you haven’t visited our overview page for the Lenten retreat (which you can do from anywhere, in whatever way works for you), please stop by and see what we’ll be about during the coming weeks.

Here at The Painted Prayerbook, I’ll post links to previous reflections and art for the season. After journeying through five Lents here, we have lots of resources for your Lenten path! I also have many images for Lent and Easter. See the Lent & Easter gallery at Jan Richardson Images.

I wish you many blessings as Lent begins.

For a previous reflection on this passage, click the image or title below.

Lent 1: Into the Wilderness

For related reflections on Lent 1 in other years, visit:

Wilderness and Wings
Lent 1: A Blessing for the Wilderness


A River Runs Through Him
Lent 1: A River Runs through Him


Discernment in the Desert
Lent 1: Discernment and Dessert in the Desert


Day 3: Into the Wilderness

To learn more about our online Lenten retreat, click the retreat icon below. Group rates are available!

Transfiguration Sunday: Dazzling

February 3, 2013

Image: They Saw His Glory © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Transfiguration Sunday, Year C: Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)

And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white…. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. —Luke 9.29, 32-33

A Blessing for Transfiguration Sunday

Believe me, I know
how tempting it is
to remain inside this blessing,
to linger where everything
is dazzling
and clear.

We could build walls
around this blessing,
put a roof over it.
We could bring in
a table, chairs,
have the most amazing meals.
We could make a home.
We could stay.

But this blessing
is built for leaving.
This blessing
is made for coming down
the mountain.
This blessing
wants to be in motion,
to travel with you
as you return
to level ground.

It will seem strange
how quiet this blessing becomes
when it returns to earth.
It is not shy.
It is not afraid.

It simply knows
how to bide its time,
to watch and wait,
to discern and pray

until the moment comes
when it will reveal
everything it knows,
when it will shine forth
with all that it has seen,
when it will dazzle
with the unforgettable light
you have carried
all this way.

And also . . .

ONLINE LENTEN RETREAT: Gary and I would love to have you join us for the online retreat that we’ll be offering for Lent. If you’re longing for an experience that draws you into the season without feeling like it’s just one more thing to add to your Lenten schedule, this retreat is for you.  Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, this retreat is a great way to travel toward Easter in contemplation and conversation, from anywhere you are. Group discounts available! Begins February 13. For info and registration, click this icon:

For previous reflections for Transfiguration Sunday, click the images or titles below:

Transfiguration: Back to the Drawing Board

Transfiguration Sunday: Show and (Don’t) Tell

And I have one more image for Transfiguration Sunday at Jan Richardson Images:

Transfiguration II

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

Epiphany 3: To Proclaim Release

January 20, 2013

Image: To Proclaim Release © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Epiphany 3, Year C: Luke 4.14-21

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because God has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

—Luke 4.18-19

A Prophet’s Blessing

This blessing
finds its way
behind the bars.
This blessing
works its way
beneath the chains.
This blessing
knows its way
through a broken heart.
This blessing
makes a way
where there is none.

Where there is
no light,
this blessing.
Where there is
no hope,
this blessing.
Where there is
no peace,
this blessing.
Where there is
nothing left,
this blessing.

In the presence
of hate.
In the absence
of love.
In the torment
of pain.
In the grip
of fear.

To the one
in need.
To the one
in the cell.
To the one
in the dark.
To the one
in despair.

Let this blessing come
as bread.
Let this blessing come
as release.
Let this blessing come
as sight.
Let this blessing come
as freedom.

Let this blessing come.

P.S. I’m delighted to share the news that my book In Wisdom’s Path has recently come out in a beautiful hardcover version! With color artwork throughout, In Wisdom’s Path is a companion through the seasons of the sacred year. For info and to order, click the cover below. (This will take you to the Books page at Inscribed copies available by request!

And for a previous reflection on this passage, click the image or title below:

Epiphany 3: Fulfilled in Your Hearing

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

Baptism of Jesus: Washed

January 9, 2013

Image: Washed © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Epiphany 1/Baptism of Jesus, Year C: Luke 3.15-17, 21-22

Blessing the Baptism

As if we could call you
anything other than
and blessed

drenched as we are
in our love for you

washed as we are
by our delight in you

born anew as we are
by the grace that flows
from the heart of the one
who bore you to us.

P.S. In my previous reflection on Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism, I shared Janet Wolf’s story about the baptism of Fayette. If you don’t know the story, please don’t miss it! Fayette’s story continues to bless and haunt me as it challenges me to think about what the sacrament of baptism really means. Click the image or title below to visit that post.

Epiphany 1: Baptized and Beloved

I also have several other reflections and images for the Baptism of Jesus and hope you’ll visit them:

Baptism of Jesus: Following the Flow

Epiphany 1: Take Me to the River

Epiphany 1: Ceremony (with a Side of Cake)


For related artwork, you can find these pieces at the Jan Richardson Images website:

With the Spirit and Fire
With the Spirit and Fire

Baptism of Jesus


And if you don’t know about the new retreat that I recently released for Women’s Christmas 2013, which you can use anytime (not just on Women’s Christmas!), you can read about it and download the retreat as a PDF (at no cost) by visiting the link below. It’s been wonderful to hear from folks who are using it for their personal reflection or with a group.

Wise Women Also Came
Women’s Christmas: The Map You Make Yourself

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

Ascension/Easter 7: While He Was Blessing Them

May 16, 2012

 While He Was Blessing Them © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Ascension Day/Ascension of the Lord (May 17; often celebrated the Sunday after): Luke 24.44-53
Reading from the Gospels, Easter 7 (May 20): John 17.6-19

It is a season of leave-takings. In the United Methodist Church, this is the time of year when colleagues who will be moving to new pastoral appointments this summer are announcing the news. Several friends have died in recent weeks (including dear Joe, whom I wrote about in this post a few months ago) as have several family members of friends. Graduation ceremonies are taking place (Brenda Lewis, my longtime friend and seminary roommate, reminded me this week that it’s been twenty years since our own graduation from Candler School of Theology), boxes are being packed, and familiar landscapes are receding into the distance.

In the rhythm of the liturgical year, this too is a season of leave-taking. For some time now we’ve been watching Jesus prepare his friends for his coming absence. As Jesus practices the art of departure, he invites us to think about what it means to say good-bye with intention, with mindfulness, with love. This week, the exquisite care that Jesus brings to his leaving reaches its apex in the passages for Ascension Day and Easter 7.

As always, I am struck by how, in Luke’s account of the Ascension, Jesus chooses to leave from Bethany. It is a beloved place of memory for Jesus: here he found hospitality in the home of his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; here he raised Lazarus from the dead; here he received the gift of a woman’s anointing shortly before his death. Bethany has been a place of blessing for Jesus. And so, from this place of blessing, Jesus leaves, offering a blessing as he goes. While he was blessing them, Luke tells us, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven (24.51).

As we see also in this week’s passage from John, the blessing is part of the leaving. And, somehow, the leaving is part of the blessing. His departure—and the way he enters into it—is part of Jesus’ final gift to his friends. In much the same way that Jesus tells Mary Magdalene on Easter morning not to hold onto him, Jesus at the table and in his Ascension urges his disciples—his friends—to grow up. He invites them to enter into a new relationship with him that will no longer depend on his physical presence but will rely instead on trusting in his love and growing into the people and the community that Christ has called them to become. It is time for them to become his body, to continue his transforming work in the world that he has physically left but has not abandoned.

Joyful, sorrowful, bittersweet; planned or unexpected; welcomed or resisted or grieved: no matter how a leave-taking happens, it always brings an invitation, and it makes a space for the Spirit to come. As you navigate the leave-takings in your own life, how do you keep your eyes open for the invitations they hold? What blessings do they offer, and what blessings do they invite?


In the leaving
in the letting go
let there be this
to hold onto
at the last:

the enduring of love
the persisting of hope
the remembering of joy

the offering of gratitude
the receiving of grace
the blessing of peace.

P.S. For previous reflections on the Ascension, click the images or titles below.

Ascension/Easter 7: Blessing in the Leaving
(includes “Ascension Blessing”)

Ascension/Easter 7: A Blessing at Bethany

[To use the image “While He Was Blessing Them,” please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Ascension/Easter 7: Blessing in the Leaving

May 29, 2011

Ascension II © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Ascension Day: Luke 24.44-53
Reading from the Gospels, Easter 7, Year A: John 17.1-11

Throughout this Easter season we have seen how the gospel lections have emphasized the theme of knowing: knowing the risen Christ, knowing what he has done for us and to us, knowing what he desires of us and calls us to do, knowing what he is preparing for us—and preparing us for. The fact that most of the gospel readings for the Easter season take place at a table underscores the intimacy that comes in knowing—in knowing Christ, in knowing God, in knowing one another.

This theme of knowing reaches its stunning apex in the gospel texts for this week. The reading from John’s Gospel draws us once again to the table where Jesus has lingered with his friends on the night before his death. He finishes their final feast by praying for his disciples. In his prayer, Jesus is knowing all over the place: “And this is eternal life,” he says, “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent….I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world….Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you.” Then Jesus, who knows these friends so well, releases them into the world and into the care and protection of God, who has known them from the beginning.

In the reading from Luke for Ascension Day, we see the risen Christ appearing one last time to his disciples. He opens their minds, as Luke tells us, “to understand the scriptures,” and he impresses upon them that what was written about him, they have seen with their own eyes. Jesus then takes them to Bethany: this place so familiar and dear to Jesus, the place where Mary and Martha and Lazarus lived—his close friends who knew and were known by Jesus. And from this place Jesus leaves, blessing his beloved companions as he ascends.

As we spiral back around these stories this year, what still takes hold of me is this: how Jesus prays for and blesses his friends as he leaves them. How the leaving is part of the blessing. As if the blessing can happen no other way than by his departure, by his letting go of the ones whom he has loved—these ones whom he will never cease to love but must release into their own lives, so that they may enter into the blessing and enact it on this earth.

This week provides a good occasion to remember that the English word bless comes from the Old English word blod—blood, referring to the use of blood in ritual acts of consecration. The blessing that Jesus gives as he goes is one that will infuse the community with his love, his grace, his lifeblood. He gives a blessing that will run in the veins of those he has called to be his body; a blessing that will beat in the hearts of those whom he is sending into the world.

As we prepare to leave the season of Easter and cross into Ordinary Time, what blessing do you need? What word or gesture of grace and love do you need to infuse you and sustain you to be a blessing in this world? Is there a blessing that might depend on your letting go, on releasing something—or seeking to be released from something—so that there will be a space for the blessing to enter?

Blessing the Distance
For Ascension Day

It is a mystery to me
how as the distance
between us grows,
the larger this blessing

as if the shape of it
depends on absence,
as if it finds its form
not by what
it can cling to
but by the space
that arcs
between us.

As this blessing
makes its way,
first it will cease
to measure itself
by time.

Then it will release
how attached it has become
to this place
where we have lived,
where we have learned
to know one another
in proximity and

Next this blessing
will abandon
the patterns
in which it moved,
the habits that helped it
recognize itself,
the familiar pathways
it traced.

Finally this blessing
will touch its fingers
to your brow,
your eyes,
your mouth;
it will hold
your beloved face
in both its hands,

and then
it will let you go;
it will loose you
into your life;
it will leave
each hindering thing

until all that breathes
between us
is blessing
and all that beats
between us
is grace.

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

P.S. For a previous reflection on this passage, click the image or title below:

Ascension/Easter 7: A Blessing at Bethany

Using Jan’s artwork…

To use the “Ascension II” 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.

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.

In the Presence of the Angels

September 5, 2010

In the Presence of the Angels © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Proper 19/Ordinary 24/Pentecost +16, Year C (September 12): Luke 15.1-10

In one of my earliest memories, I am perhaps five years old. I am standing in my parents’ bedroom with a stack of my artwork. Drawings in pencil and crayon, paintings in tempera and watercolor and finger paint: these are the pieces that my mother has gathered up and saved. The entire collection. And I am systematically tearing up each one.

The most vivid part of the memory is when my mother walks in. I have made it nearly to the bottom of the stack by this point. Horrified to see the pile of shredded paper, she asks me why I have done this. “Because they weren’t any good!” I tell her, amazed that she can’t see this for herself.

I don’t know where I got this idea; it didn’t originate at home, where my family valued and supported creativity. Call it a precocious inner critic.

It would be many years before I began to understand myself as an artist, to connect with and claim that part of my soul. I long thought that an artist was someone who could draw or paint well, and although I made forays into these media from time to time, I still carried with me that inner critic who had shown up so early in my life.

Just as I was about to graduate from seminary, I started seriously playing with paper, and was transformed. In the process of cutting and tearing and pasting—those basic skills I had picked up in kindergarten—something magical happened that did not depend on painting or drawing. I had found my medium. In the practice of collage, I discovered a path to a place where it became harder to hear the voice of my interior critic.

That path eventually led me to become the artist-in-residence at a Catholic retreat center, where a Franciscan friar named David had opened the door for me to create a ministry that brought all the pieces of my vocation together. As I worked with David in the studio one day, he asked me, “Where did your fascination with paper come from?” The long-forgotten memory of the five-year-old who shredded her artwork suddenly resurfaced. I told David that story, and then said that perhaps becoming a collage artist was my way of putting those pieces back together.

As I moved deeper into the artist layer of my soul, I came to experience paper collage as a spiritual practice—a form of prayer—and as a metaphor for the creative work that God does in my own life. In much the same way that I sit at my drafting table and piece together the scraps to create something new, God does this within me. God takes everything: experiences, stories, memories, relationships, dreams, prayers—all those pieces, light and dark, rough and smooth, straight and torn—and creates anew from them. I’ve learned to think of God as the consummate recycler: in God’s economy, nothing is wasted. The broken as well as the beautiful, the torn as well as the whole, the pieces that we treasure as well as those we might prefer to throw away or bury or forget: everything—everything—can be used. Transformed. Redeemed.

This image of the God who reclaims and redeems lies at the heart of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel lection for next Sunday. Telling parables was Jesus’ artful way of putting pieces together, of taking everyday experiences, juxtaposing them in new ways, and revealing patterns of hope and possibility. In these two parables that he offers at the beginning of Luke 15—the parables of the search for the lost sheep and the woman’s finding of her lost coin—Jesus provides vivid images that depict God’s penchant for searching out what is lost in order to reclaim it and restore it to wholeness.

For those of us who live in a culture devoted to rugged individualism, with its emphasis on pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps and making our way in the world by relying on our own resources, these parables pose a challenge. For while these stories remind us that God calls us to participate in our own redemption by repenting—by acknowledging how we, by our own actions, have perpetuated the brokenness of the world—we cannot achieve our redemption and wholeness all by ourselves. These parables remind us that redemption is always God’s work, God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The most we can do is turn ourselves Godward—and the act of turning lies at the Greek root of the word for repentance, metanoia—and pray that in our turning, we will—like a sheep, like a coin—be unlost. Be unhidden. Be found.

These parables call us also to remember that redemption does not, cannot, happen in isolation. Redemption restores us to the community and continually challenges us to work toward the flourishing of those whose lives are bound together with ours. Yet while God continually pulls us toward community, redemption is not about conformity: being restored to the circle does not mean thinking or acting or looking like everyone else, and making all our pieces look the same. Repentance and redemption invite us instead to discern what we have to offer, what distinctive gifts God has placed within us that no one else can bring, the pieces that, when brought together with the richness of the pieces that others offer, transform the brokenness of the world into a pattern of beauty.

And when this happens, as Jesus illuminates in these parables—when what is broken and lost is restored and redeemed—it is worth a celebration. Is not complete, in fact, until some rejoicing gets under way.

Where do you see this kind of restoration happening in the world and within the landscape of your own life? Are there pieces you have lost—scraps of your story that you have buried or forgotten or let slip away—that God might see as treasures and be yearning to incorporate into a picture of your life that is more integrated and complete? Where do you see cause for celebration? How might the act of celebrating—of noticing where pieces are coming together and rejoicing in this, even in the midst of ongoing brokenness—be part of your journey toward wholeness?

As you contemplate these questions, I invite you to listen to a remarkable song called “Redemption” by clicking on the arrow in the player below. It’s by my singer/songwriter husband, Garrison Doles (from his CD Whenever I’m with You). As you listen and ponder and live into this week’s lection, I wish you blessings and pray that in the coming days, God will provide glimpses of wholeness taking hold in your life and in the world, and of the angels who rejoice when pieces come together.

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

The Humble Seat

August 22, 2010

The Humble Seat © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Proper 17/Ordinary 22/Pentecost +14, Year C (August 29): Luke 14.1, 7-14

Ah, the endless wisdom of the table! Throughout Jesus’ ministry, we see again and again how in much the same way that he never passes up an opportunity to share a meal with others, he rarely misses the chance to use a table as an occasion to teach. Whether it’s welcoming a woman who anoints him, or using the table as a way to talk about the kingdom of God, or employing the elements of a meal to describe who he himself is: the table, for Jesus, is always about right relationship, about how we are to live in community and communion with one another.

At the table that Luke tells of in next Sunday’s gospel lection, Jesus turns his attention not only to the kind of hosts we are to be—inviting those who owe us nothing—but also to the kind of guests we ought to be. When we receive an invitation to share in the table of another, Jesus says (a wedding banquet, in this case: Jesus’ ultimate image of the kingdom of God) we should come with no expectations, no intent to grasp at a seat of honor—from which, Jesus says, we might be ejected. When approaching the table, Jesus says, our stance, is to be one of humility, a posture that leaves room for surprise and for grace.

When it comes to humility, and discerning how we are called to embody this sometimes perplexing quality as the people of Christ, I often find myself turning back to the desert mothers and fathers, those ammas and abbas of the early church who articulated this disposition with such clarity. Of all the practices and habits that these early Christians engaged in, humility was the one that surpassed all others, and upon which all other practices depended. We see this, for instance, in Amma Theodora. In The Sayings of the Desert Fathers we read that Amma Theodora said, “Neither asceticism, nor vigils nor any kind of suffering are able to save, only true humility can do that.” She went on to say, “There was an anchorite who was able to banish the demons; and he asked them, ‘What makes you go away? Is it fasting?’ They replied, ‘We do not eat or drink.’ ‘Is it vigils?’ They replied, ‘We do not sleep.’ Is it separation from the world?’ ‘We live in the deserts.’ ‘What power sends you away then?’ They said, ‘Nothing can overcome us, but only humility.’ ‘Do you see how humility is victorious over the demons?’” Amma Theodora recognized that without humility, all our practices become hollow.

The desert folk, however, understood humility in a rather different way than we tend to in the 21st century. Where we sometimes equate humility with being a doormat, Roberta Bondi points out in her book To Love as God Loves: Conversations with the Early Church that “humility did not mean for them [the ammas and abbas] a continuous cringing, cultivating a low self-image, and taking a perverse pleasure in being always forgotten, unnoticed, or taken for granted. Instead, humility meant to them a way of seeing other people as being as valuable in God’s eyes as ourselves. It was for them a relational term having to do precisely with learning to value others, whoever they were. It had to do with developing the kind of empathy with the weaknesses of others that made it impossible to judge others out of our own self-righteousness.”

At the root of humility is the Greek word humus. Earth. The earth that God made and called good, the earth from which, as one of the creation stories goes, God fashioned us. Humility is our fundamental recognition that we each draw our life and breath from the same source, the God who made us and calls us beloved. Humility does not only prevent us from seeing ourselves as more deserving or graced or better than another. It compels us also to recognize that we are no less deserving or graced than another. For women, so often conditioned to take on roles and attitudes of subservience, this is a particular point that the desert teachers would have us understand. Humility draws us into mutual relation in which we allow no abuse, no demeaning, no diminishment of others or of ourselves.

And when we bungle it, or see others bungle it, humility gives us a break. “When it comes to living together,” Bondi writes in her book To Pray and to Love, “humility is the opposite of perfectionism. It gives up unrealistic expectations of how things ought to be for a clear vision of what human life is really like. In turn, this enables its possessors to see and thus love the people they deeply desire to love.”

Humility invites us to stay low to the ground so that we can find the treasures there. Not so low that we become a doormat, subject to whatever treatment others may mete out to us. Instead, humility helps us remain grounded in the best sense of the word: centered in the humus from which we have been created, the gloriously ordinary earth from which God made each one of us. Humility enables us to recognize our dependence on the One who fashioned us as well as our kinship with those who share this earth, this humus. In practicing humility, we leave room for the surprising and graced ways that God works—beyond expectation, beyond privilege, beyond status—at the table and in every place beyond it.

So how’s your humus these days? In what are you centering and grounding yourself—your earth? Are you leaving God enough room to work beyond your expectations and assumptions? How might God be challenging you not only to offer hospitality but also to receive it in ways that bring wholeness?

Blessings to you at the table and beyond.

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

For more table imagery, visit this page.

Freedom in My Bones

August 15, 2010

Freedom in My Bones © Jan L. Richardson

Gospel reading, Proper 16/Ordinary 21/Pentecost +13, Year C (August 22): Luke 13.10-17

I’ve heard it said that every preacher has only one sermon, and that each message is simply a variation on it. I know this about myself, not only as a preacher but also as a writer and artist. I’m not sure what the title of my core sermon would be, but I know it has something to do with these questions: What are the habits, patterns, and rhythms by which we live our lives? Do they enable us to live in freedom, fully open to the presence of God? Or does our way of life hinder us from this? Are there patterns and habits that, over time, have become confining, keeping us bound and bent and feeling less than whole?

As a preacher, writer, and artist, I may venture far afield in my work, but I always seem to return to these core questions about what we shape and build and construct—and sometimes constrict—our lives around. And I find myself pondering these questions again as I contemplate the upcoming gospel lection, which is among my favorites: the story of the bent-over woman that Luke gives us in his Gospel.

Luke tells us that the source of the woman’s crippling illness lay beyond her control; he describes it as a spirit that had kept her bound for eighteen years (“eighteen long years,” Jesus points out). There was nothing, it seems, that she did to cause her condition, and little she could do to remedy it. There is no habit, no pattern, no routine that this woman can change that will free her—except to place herself in Jesus’ path.

I find myself curious about the community around this woman, wondering what their habits toward her had been. Did they hold her responsible for her condition, thinking—as people so often thought in that time, and still often do in ours—that her physical appearance was a manifestation of an inner fault? Did they take any notice of her as she made her painful way among them, or did they allow her to travel below their line of sight? Did they ever pause to look her in the eye, alter the shape of their own body in order to meet her gaze? Did they keep their distance, concerned that her state might pass all too easily to them? How much of this did the woman absorb into her own body and soul?

I know my wonderings reflect my own assumptions, largely born of my noticings about how in our own day we still so often look around, look through, look away from those in our midst whose bodies look different than whatever we consider the norm. And maybe I’m taking a too dismal view here; maybe this woman, whose name we do not know, did in fact have kinfolk and allies. Yet it’s clear that there were those in her community who allowed themselves to be locked into patterns that worked against her wholeness and freedom. When Jesus dares to heal the bent-over woman on a sabbath day, he meets resistance and outrage. In turn, he challenges those present to consider what sabbath really means: that in its fullness, the laws regarding sabbath are designed not just for rest but for release from all that keeps us in bondage.

Yesterday morning I returned home from my three-week trip to the other side of the country. After spending two weeks at the Grünewald Guild, a place I think of as another home, I went to Lake Tahoe to serve as the keynote speaker for the Companions on the Inner Way retreat. Both places offered remarkable experiences of community and hospitality. And in each place I witnessed the power of what happens when people are invited to live and move and work in ways that lie beyond their customary habits, patterns, and assumptions about who they are and what they can do.

In my retreat work, I often encounter folks who claim that they don’t have a creative bone in their bodies. I understand this; can see all too readily how our culture chips away at the creative spirit that is innate to us. It is alarming, how easily we participate—however unconsciously—in societal patterns that seek to keep us within certain confines; that keep us from being too distinctive, too creative, too noticeable. That keep us from standing upright.

But in these past weeks, I watched a woman create a sculpture for the first time since her mother’s death more than a decade before; I heard a woman in her 80s declare that she was going to spend the rest of her life painting; I saw people take the scriptures into their bones as they sang and worshiped and prayed and danced the sacred texts of our tradition; I saw them piece together words and images that drew them more deeply into their internal terrain where they found the presence of God in ways they had not noticed before. I saw them holding one another in community, walking with one another into new landscapes.

As these scenes and moments of the past weeks play through my memory once again, I see, too, among them a shadow: a woman bent, moving, rising, standing, praising. Healed and free.

And so I, the preacher and writer and artist who perpetually circles around the same message, am come this day to ask you: What are the patterns you are enacting in your life and your community? Do you have any habits and routines that, once comfortable, have become constricting and confining? Are there ways that you participate in keeping others in rhythms that are comfortable for you? Do you allow others to do this to you, letting yourself absorb assumptions and prejudices that keep you bound, however subtly? Do you resist moving in ways that might challenge and conflict with the patterns of others? What would it look like to place yourself in the healing path of Jesus, and know sabbath down to your very bones?

Prayer for All Things Rising

For all things rising
out of the hiddenness of shadows
out of the weight of despair
out of the brokenness of pain
out of the constrictions of compliance
out of the rigidity of stereotypes
out of the prison of prejudice;

for all things rising
into life, into hope
into healing, into power
into freedom, into justice;

we pray, O God,
for all things rising.

In the coming days, may you place yourself in the path of the Christ who desires our wholeness. Together. Blessings to you!

[“Prayer for All Things Rising” © Jan L. Richardson from Sacred Journeys: A Woman’s Book of Daily Prayer (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 1995). To use the “Freedom in My Bones” image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]