Archive for the ‘mystery’ Category

A Portable Cathedral for the 21st Century

June 17, 2011

“Although some may find Ordinary Time a lackluster season, I’ve grown fond of it for the ways that it invites me to discover the sacred in the rhythms of unbroken dailiness. Waking, eating, reading the paper, working, playing, talking, doing laundry, doing dishes, doing errands, doing nothing at all: how is God with us in these times? Who is God with us in these times?” —From In Wisdom’s Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season

As we approach the season of Ordinary Time, I am thrilled to share that my book In Wisdom’s Path has just been released as an ebook! With original artwork, reflections, poetry, and prayers, In Wisdom’s Path invites the reader to enter into the rhythms of the Christian year. From the contemplative “Cave of the Heart” in Advent to the “Daily Way” of Ordinary Time, the book serves as a companion through the unfolding seasons of the sacred year.

First published in 2000, the book is now available in a PDF format that brings the beautiful, full-color layout—designed by my splendid art director, Martha Clark-Plank—from the printed page to the screen. Read it on your computer or, better yet, on your iPad, Nook Color, or other portable reader, so you can always have it with you wherever you go!

As we release In Wisdom’s Path as an ebook, I find myself thinking of the exquisite illuminated prayerbooks of the Middle Ages called Books of Hours (which helped inspire The Painted Prayerbook blog!). Designed to enable folks to pray the same rhythm of prayer as the monks, nuns, and priests who prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, these prayerbooks typically were small enough to carry in a pocket or purse. This medieval prayerbook became, as one writer has put it, a “portable cathedral.” In pausing for a few moments and opening the book amidst whatever was going on, the owner entered into a sacred space—a thin place—for reflection and prayer.

In the spirit of these remarkable medieval prayerbooks, In Wisdom’s Path incorporates 21st-century technology to offer you a sacred space in our own time. We are pleased to provide this book for you in a format that you can download and take with you anywhere to find moments of respite and renewal in the rhythm of your day.

For more info and to purchase the ebook, visit the Books page at

P.S. In other book news, In the Sanctuary of Women was recently named a winner in the 2011 National Indie Excellence Book Awards! More info over at the Sanctuary of Women blog.

Easter 6: Love and Revelation

May 22, 2011

Love and Revelation © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter 6, Year A (May 29): John 14.15-21

On a day more than six hundred years ago, in the English town of Norwich, a woman walked into a cell attached to the parish church. She intended to stay there for the rest of her life. The original name of the woman is unknown, and the cell where she would live as an anchoress—a woman devoted to a life of contemplation and solitude—no longer remains. It is likely that she took her name from the church in whose cell she lived: the Church of St. Julian.

Nearly everything we know about Julian of Norwich comes from a manuscript that she composed in her cell. In it she tells of how, at the age of thirty and a half, she became desperately ill. Just as she thought herself at the point of death, her pain suddenly departed. As Julian continued to pray, she was visited by a series of sixteen visions or revelations—what she called “showings”—in which she came to experience and know God’s love for her.

Julian recorded her visions in a short text, and then, after nearly two decades, she expanded on them in a longer text that incorporates the insights that she gained through years of reflecting on and praying with the visions. Together Julian’s texts became the book known as Showings, or Revelations of Divine Love.

In the final chapter of Showings, as Julian comes to the end of the remarkable work in which she has revealed to us a God whose endless mystery encompasses a deep desire to know and love us in all our human particularity, she writes,

And from the time that it was revealed, I desired to know in what was our Lord’s meaning. And fifteen years after and more, I was answered in spiritual understanding, and it was said: What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same. But you will never know different, without end.

From her anchorhold, with her stunning simplicity, Julian echoes and embodies what her beloved Jesus says to his friends in this week’s gospel passage. At the table where he gathers with his disciples on the night before his death, he persists in telling them what he wants them—needs them—to know about who he is, what he has done, what he will yet do, what he is calling them to do after he is physically gone. In this passage, Jesus becomes very clear about why he wants them to know these things, and what underlies and encompasses and is the reason for their knowing.

“They who have my commandments and keep them,” Jesus says, “are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

The knowledge that Jesus shares with his followers is not for the purpose of giving them worldly power. It is not designed to make them feel important, or to initiate them into secrets meant for a select few, or to make their lives easier. He does not intend for them to use the knowledge as a weapon to threaten or diminish others. What Jesus reveals to his friends—his friends at the table that night, his friend in the cell at the Church of St. Julian, his friends throughout the ages—he does for one reason:

For love.

Jesus speaks of love and revelation in the same breath. He wants his friends to understand that loving and knowing are of a piece, that loving draws us deeper into knowing and being known by the one whom we love. Here on the threshold of his death, Jesus cannot go until he assures them that he will not leave them bereft but will, in fact, continue to love and help them. He cannot leave until he tells them that by their loving, they will remain in relationship with him; through their shared love, he will yet reveal himself to them and be known by them.

What knowledge does your loving lead you to? As you stretch yourself into loving others, what becomes revealed to you—of them, of yourself, of God? How has love challenged or changed what you know? How are you opening yourself to its presence in your life?

Blessing that Knows Your Name

Chances are
there will come a day
when you will forget
every last word
of this blessing.

It does not matter.

Let this blessing
slip through
your fingers.
Let it roll from
the smooth plane
of your palm.
Let each line
and every syllable
fall away.
Let this blessing
to where all
blessings begin.

Let it leave you
until all that remains
is the place where
it pierced you—
whether like fire
or like breath
you could not say,
only that you heard
your name as it entered,
then heard its own
as it blew away.

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

Easter 6: Side Orders

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

Easter 5: Many Rooms

May 15, 2011

Many Rooms © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter 5, Year A (May 22): John 14.1-14

Many years ago, a recurring dream began to take hold of my nighttime brain. The details shift and change each time it visits, but the essence of the dream remains the same: I am wandering through shops—not a mall, but a series of connected stores. The stores are the kind that I love to browse through, the sort that I find in communities that value artistry. As I wander among the stores that spill into one another, I savor what I see: richly hued artwork, finely crafted jewelry, beautiful pottery that calls out for me to touch it.

In the dream, no matter the changing details, I always find a bookstore. Often it’s a used bookstore, crammed with volumes and with more shelves around each turn. Once the bookstore contained a case of gorgeous hand-bound books, displayed like artwork. I marveled at the colors, textures, and designs, knowing as I touched the books, I want to do this, to create books like these.

Along with the persistent presence of a bookstore, one other detail of the dream never changes: it always begins with my walking down a familiar street. I turn a corner and suddenly find myself among the shops, thinking, Of course—that’s where they were! These treasures were in my neighborhood the whole time, waiting for me to find them.

And you know the way to the place where I am going, Jesus says to his disciples on the night before his death. Here at the table where they share their final meal before his crucifixion, there are many things Jesus wants to tell them. His hunger for them to know—which we see again and again in the gospel texts in this Easter season—becomes particularly acute as Jesus gathers with them just hours before his death. And so he will go on to tell them about the Holy Spirit whom he will send, and how this Spirit will be in them. Jesus will tell them that he is the true vine in which they will abide. He will tell them—command them—to love one another, and how the world will hate them. He will tell them that their sorrow will turn to joy. Jesus is desperate for them to know these things, and more.

But when he tells them, before all this, of the place he is preparing for them—the house with many dwelling places—Jesus tells them that they already know the way. When Thomas—ever the good questioner—asks him how they can know the way, Jesus reminds them that he himself is the way. If they know him, they know the way, and the One who sent him to prepare the way for them.

This text has me wondering if following in this way has less to do with striving and working at it, in the frenetic fashion we sometimes do, than with letting ourselves recognize what we already know; less to do with wrapping our brains around points of belief that grow so contentious than with opening our eyes to the door that has always been there in our soul, our heart, waiting for us to see it and walk through it and find the spacious dwelling place that has been there all along. To be sure, following Christ our Way takes work and effort and focus and sacrifice. Yet I find myself thinking of the poem by the Sufi poet Rumi in which he writes of how he has been living on the “lip of insanity,” as he puts it, knocking incessantly on a door. Finally the door opens, and he realizes, “I’ve been knocking from the inside!”

Here at the table, Jesus wants to make clear that although the place he describes is a someday place, a promised home that he is preparing, it is at the same time a dwelling that his followers can have a glimpse of in this world, a space that even now takes form in our midst. An abiding-place fashioned by—and fashioned of—the Christ who dwells in God, and is a dwelling place for God, and offers his own self to us as both a habitation and a way. A way that we find by opening the door that is already within us.

In this season, where are you making your home? Where are you dwelling? Is there a place in your life where you are pushing and pouring out your energy—something you are trying to wrap your brain around to understand it or to change it—when the way might lie instead in releasing, in finding the doorway that appears in letting go?

Blessing with Many Rooms

As you step inside
this blessing
we wish to tell you
it is large enough
for you to lie down in.

(though it may not look it,
small as it is upon this page)
you can curl up
in this blessing
with a cup of tea
and a good book
beside the window—
here, just behind you—
that faces east.

Likewise it is true,
though you might not have
paused long enough
to notice,
that this blessing
is big enough
for a table—
quite a sizeable one
can be accommodated—
where your guests
will want to linger
far into the night.

And if they desire to stay,
you will find that
through this door—
you did not see it before?—
there are rooms in plenty
where they can
lay their heads
and stretch out with abandon
in their dreaming sleep.

One room,
many rooms—
in this blessing
it is all the same.
The point is that
there is space

Enough to make
a life, a home;
enough to make
a world.

Enough to make
your way toward
the One who has made
this way for you.

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

Easter 5: A Place to Dwell

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

Lent 2: Born of Water, Born of Spirit

March 17, 2011

Born of Water, Born of Spirit © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Lent 2 (March 20): John 3.1-17

Very sorry to be posting late in the week. I am easily distracted by shiny objects, and one came in the form of an enticing project that consumed the first part of my week. More on that in another post. Amidst it all, I have had Nicodemus and his nighttime visit with Jesus much on my mind.

We are just barely into Lent, a season suffused with wilderness and desert. Yet with its imagery of water and of Spirit, this Sunday’s Gospel lection brings us a welcome reminder that God provides sustenance to us in every season.

This text from John’s Gospel invites us to eavesdrop on the visit that Nicodemus pays to Jesus shortly after Jesus clears out the temple. The fact that Jesus and Nicodemus have their conversation at night seems fitting not just because the darkness offers a measure of protection and secrecy for Nicodemus, away from the eyes of his fellow Pharisees, but because Jesus speaks here of a mystery. In response to the question that Nicodemus asks about being born anew, Jesus does not really provide a clear explanation. Yet in his words about water and Spirit, about birthing and love, Jesus offers something better than an explanation: he extends to Nicodemus, and to us, an invitation to a relationship and to a journey of transformation.

I have contemplated this nighttime passage a couple of times previously, at Lent 2: In Which We Get Goosed and Lent 4: The Serpent in the Text, and invite you to visit those reflections. I don’t have many new words to say about this text, but I did get into the studio this week to create a collage and was glad for the ways the text drew me in some new directions into the story and into my art.

I want also to wish you a blessed Saint Patrick’s Day! I have written previously about this beloved saint at Feast of Saint Patrick and invite you to stop by and especially to click on the audio player near the end of that reflection; “Patrick on the Water” is a marvelous song that my husband, Garrison Doles, wrote for a Wellspring service that we did in celebration of St. Patrick.

Speaking of Garrison, his most recent CD also includes a song inspired by this week’s Gospel. Click the player below to hear “O Nicodemus” from his CD House of Prayer:

This week offers many reminders of God’s provision and love. And so, by water and Spirit born and blessed, may you be a living sign of that love, and a blessing to those whose path you cross.

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

Resources for the season: Looking toward Lent

And blogging daily at Sanctuary of Women during Lent…

Lent 1: A Blessing for the Wilderness

March 10, 2011

Wilderness and Wings © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Lent 1 (March 13): Matthew 4.1-11

The first time they met, they were in the waters of their mothers’ wombs. On that day, John had leaped with joy at the presence of his cousin Jesus. Now the kinsmen stand together by other waters. On this day that they meet at the Jordan, they see each other with different eyes. There is a deeper knowing in their gaze, and in their recognition of each other a joy perhaps no less keen than at the first but with a wiser edge. Here at the river, John and Jesus have lived out nearly their entire lives. Yet there is still much to do; everything to do.

And so, grudgingly at first, but then with understanding, John the Baptist plunges Jesus beneath the surface. This, at least, he can do for his cousin, can help prepare him for the way that lies ahead of him. John speaks the words of blessing and initiation, raises Jesus dripping from the depths, hears the voice that proclaims from heaven, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

And then the kinsmen go their separate ways. Where we might expect the freshly baptized Jesus to begin his public ministry, there is instead a curious sort of inversion that takes place: Jesus goes into the wilderness, the landscape that had long been home to his locust-and-honey-eating cousin. There is something he needs there, a way that yet must be prepared within him.

Here at the outset of Lent, what can you see of the landscape that lies ahead of you? Might there be another place you need to go, physically or in your soul, before you are ready to enter the landscape that calls you? Is there a space—a season, a terrain, a ritual—of preparation that you need; a place where you can find clarity, and perhaps a ministering angel or two? What might this look like?

Wilderness Blessing

Let us say
this blessing began
whole and complete
upon the page.

And then let us say
that one word loosed itself
and another followed it
in turn.

Let us say
this blessing started
to shed all
it did not need,

that line by line
it returned
to the ground
from which it came.

Let us say
this blessing is not
leaving you,
is not abandoning you
to the wild
that lies ahead

but that it is loathe
to load you down
on this road where
you will need
to travel light.

Let us say
perhaps this blessing
became the path
beneath your feet,
the desert
that stretched before you,
the clear sight
that finally came.

Let us say
that when this blessing
at last came to its end
all that it left behind
was bread,
a fleeting flash
of wing.

P.S. For previous reflections on Lent 1, please see Lent 1: Discernment and Dessert in the Desert, Lent 1: A River Runs through Him, and Lent 1: Into the Wilderness.

You are welcome to use “Wilderness Blessing” in worship. Thanks for including a brief credit line with this info: © Jan L. Richardson.

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

Resources for the season: Looking toward Lent

Blogging also at Sanctuary of Women during Lent…

Epiphany 2: What Are You Looking For?

January 15, 2011

Who Gave You Your Eyes? © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Epiphany 2, Year A: John 1.29-42

Who gave you your eyes? asks J. Ruth Gendler in her book Notes on the Need for Beauty. “Inside this question,” she goes on to write, “are several other questions. Who taught you to see? Who taught you what to see? What not to see? What are you paying attention to? What is beautiful to you?”

I’ve been spending time seeing, lately. After last year’s extraordinary outpouring of energy, I have devoted some space, in the opening days of this new year, to filling my creative well. Resting and restoring. Absorbing. Looking. Giving my attention to what feeds my eyes, grabs my imagination, renews my vision.

This involves books, of course. One of the books I’ve been keeping company with is Leslie Geddes-Brown’s marvelous book about Angie Lewin, an English printmaker whose work first crossed my path in a Seattle bookstore several years ago. I left the shop with a fistful of her cards, just because they made my soul and my eyeballs happy. The pages of Angie Lewin: Plants and Places, just recently published (and a post-Christmas treat to myself), brim with Lewin’s remarkable wood engravings, linocuts, lithographs, and screenprints, along with her working sketches as well as photographs of some of the places that inspire her art. The book, in fact, is thematically divided into sections that take their names from these places: woodland and hedgerow, river and loch, meadow and garden.

In images and in Lewin’s own words, the book reveals some of the sources of her seeing. She tells of landscapes she has sought or stumbled upon, along with artists whose work has helped her develop her distinctive vision. The book closes with a wonderful, offbeat bibliography (with photos) of books that are among Lewin’s favorites; she comments, “Many of the artists who inspire me have also illustrated books and designed textiles and ceramics, so this list is an eclectic mix of 1940s natural history books and obscure titles collected for the artwork regardless of their subject.”

The book, which came into my hands at about the same time as Ruth Gendler’s book, reads something like an extended meditation on the question that Gendler poses: Who gave you your eyes? Together these two books have prompted me to pay closer attention to how I see, what I see, where I look, what inspires me, how my seeing might need to stretch in new directions.

And into the midst of this strolls Jesus in this Sunday’s gospel lection, where we meet two of John the Baptist’s disciples who, after hearing John speak of Jesus as the lamb of God, begin to follow after Jesus. “What are you looking for?” Jesus asks them. They answer his question with a question: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus responds to them, “Come and see.”

Come and see. In all of the gospels, this is one of the most profound and challenging invitations Jesus will extend. Jesus is not beckoning them to a superficial seeing; what he offers them will demand more than a glance or a cursory look. The Greek word translated here as see comes from horao, which can be translated as perceive, understand, recognize, experience. Jesus is calling these disciples to the kind of seeing that opens a door, a seeing that draws us into a journey that will change us in ways we cannot know or imagine at the outset.

During Advent I wrote about getting stuck in my studio (“The Luminous Night”), and how getting stuck always seems to mean that a shift is brewing in my artwork. I’m in the early days yet of that shift, not clear what it means, but am feeling more excited than panicked about it. I know the shift is an invitation to a deeper seeing, a call both to extend my range of vision outward—to look beyond my usual lines of sight—as well as inward, to tunnel into layers of soul and guts and heart and see what—and who—is there. Lewin and Gendler’s books are good companions in these days; they not only feed my eyes and imagination but have also helped propel me into the studio, where I’ve begun to experiment with new colors and follow some different lines. Who knows where it will lead? The mystery and the risk are the price, and the gift, of learning to see—of being given our eyes, again and again and again.

What are you looking for? Jesus asks. Like that duo of disciples, I want to know where he is staying, where he is dwelling; I want to find where Christ makes his home. Come and see, he says. And in my studio, in my home, in my marriage, in my friendships, he keeps showing up; in the communities I’m part of, in the things I wrestle with, in the strangers who cross my path, in the questions and dreams and doorways that open onto places I could never have predicted, Christ lies in wait. Inviting me, beckoning me, challenging me to open my eyes wide, and wider still.

What are you looking for in these days?


May God,
who comes to us
in the things of this world,
bless your eyes
and be in your seeing.

May Christ,
who looks upon you
with deepest love,
bless your eyes
and widen your gaze.

May the Spirit,
who perceives what is
and what may yet be,
bless your eyes
and sharpen your vision.

May the Sacred Three
bless your eyes
and cause you to see.

[The blessing is from In the Sanctuary of Women © Jan L. Richardson. For a previous reflection on this lectionary reading, visit Epiphany 2: Come and See.]

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

Epiphany: Where the Map Begins

December 30, 2010

Image: An Ancient Light © Jan 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
the treasure in this map
is buried not at journey’s end
but at its beginning.

—Jan Richardson

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.

[2016 update: The blessing “Where the Map Begins” appears in Jan’s new book, Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons.]

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

For All the Saints

October 26, 2009

A Gathering of Spirits © Jan L. Richardson

I am coming into the home stretch of my new book, thanks be to God, and am looking forward to finishing up all the final details in time to start blogging on a more regular basis in time for Advent (over at my other blog, The Advent Door). It’s lovely also to be getting ready to celebrate my favorite trinity of days in the whole year—Halloween, the Feast of All Saints, and the Feast of All Souls. For a long while, this trio of days has been a sacred time for me—what the Celtic folk call a “thin place” in the wheel of the year. As we approach the Feast of All Saints in this year that has been particularly intense with laboring on the book, I am especially mindful of and grateful for all the sources of help, encouragement, prayer, and good cheer I have received along the way from sainted folk on both sides of the veil.

As the Feast of All Saints draws near, I invite you to visit the reflection that I wrote last year by clicking here: Feast of All Saints: A Gathering of Spirits.

Also, if you’re working with Mark 12.28-34, the gospel lection for Proper 26B/Ordinary 31B/Pentecost + 22, I invite you to visit the reflection I offered last year for Matthew’s version of this story: Crossing the Country, Thinking of Love.

Many blessings to you in these sacred days.

Easter 2: The Secret Room

April 13, 2009

The Secret Room © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter 2: John 20.19-31

In his book The Art of Pilgrimage, Phil Cousineau writes that in every pilgrimage, there is a secret room, a place along the path that gives us insight into the deep mystery of our journey. In describing this hidden room, Cousineau draws on a story that poet Donald Hall tells of friends who purchased an old farmhouse. Cousineau writes,

It was a ‘warren of small rooms,’ and once they settled in and began to furnish their new home they realized that the lay of the house made little sense. ‘Peeling off some wallpaper, they found a door that they pried open to reveal a tiny room, sealed off and hidden, goodness knows why: They found no corpses nor stolen goods.’ For Hall, the mystery of poetry to evoke powerful feelings finds its analogy here, in its ability to be sealed away from explanation, this is the place where ‘the unsayable gathers.’

And so it is on the pilgrim’s path. Everywhere you go, there is a secret room. To discover it, you must knock on walls, as the detective does in mystery houses, and listen for the echo that portends the secret passage. You must pull books off shelves to see if the library shelf swings open to reveal the hidden room.

I’ll say it again: Everywhere has a secret room. You must find your own, in a small chapel, a tiny cafe, a quiet park, the home of a new friend, the pew where the morning light strikes the rose window just so.

As a pilgrim you must find it or you will never understand the hidden reasons why you really left home.

It is the day after Easter Sunday. I savored sleeping in this morning and am now in my writer’s nook at the top of the stairs, gazing out the window as I ponder the season past. I think of the pilgrimage these forty Lenten days led me on, the twists and turns they offered, the questions and challenges they posed, the graces they beckoned me to see.

Where was the secret room?

I think of a day in the week just past, when I went with my sweetheart to the Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, not far from where I live. The primary draw of the Morse is its collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the artist famed for his stained glass designs. I have always liked Tiffany well enough—a poster of one of his windows accompanied me through a succession of dorm rooms and apartments in college—but in more recent years found I had a somewhat limited affinity for this kind of work. I thought it was pretty, in an ornamental fashion, but didn’t go much beyond that.

I had, however, changed as an artist since the last time I had walked through the museum’s doors, had begun to work in ways that—I came to realize—altered the way that I saw Tiffany’s work. And so I found myself in front of one of his windows last week, leaning in close, pulling back, leaning in again. I was stunned by his line work, the loose style so markedly different from the stained glass designs of previous centuries. His lines captivated the part of me that had begun to work in charcoal since I’d last been to the museum, and had become fascinated with how the lay of a line—how it turns this way, then that—can convey a whole world.

And, between the lines, was the remarkable glass, so distinctive of Tiffany, who radicalized the manufacture of stained glass and turned each fragment into an art form in itself. I spent a long moment at a table that offered pieces of Tiffany glass to touch. Every piece a different texture—smooth, coarse, rippled, ridged. A fragment that so looked like flame that its coolness seemed incongruous. I ran my hand over each piece, each a living link with its maker, each an embodiment of his vision and daring, each a window onto the mysterious crucible that gives rise to art, each a threshold beckoning me deeper into my own creative path and reminding me why I set out on it in the first place.

This week’s gospel lection offers us a secret room, and, with it, an invitation to touch, to cross more deeply into Jesus’ story and our own. John tells of a room in which the disciples gather—a locked room, for fear. For secrets. And there, in their midst, Jesus appears, offering his hands and side, offering peace, offering the Holy Spirit, breathing into them (“and God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” John means for us to remember). But Thomas is gone, John tells us, and will not believe unless he sees. So Jesus returns a week later, slides through the shut doors of the secret room, shows himself to Thomas. “Put your finger here and see my hands,” Jesus says, as if touching and seeing are one and the same. “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

History has labeled this disciple Doubting Thomas, as if his uncertainty were the most memorable thing about this follower of Jesus who, elsewhere, is the first to step up and say he is willing to die with him (John 11.1-16). Yet Jesus, as is his way, gives Thomas what he needs. In Jesus’ hands, in Jesus’ side, Thomas reaches into a secret room, a place that, though “sealed away from explanation,” as Cousineau writes, makes some kind of sense of the long pilgrimage that Thomas has undertaken with Jesus, to whom he is now able to say, “My Lord and my God!”

And you? Did the pilgrimage through Lent offer you a secret room? Somewhere along the way, did you find a place that offered, not an explanation of your path, but a window onto it, a space within it that enabled you to see it anew, and the one who called you there? Where was it, and what did you find there? How does it illuminate the way before you?

In the weeks to come, may we remember that Easter is not just a day but rather a season. May the gift and challenge of resurrection go with you, and may the path ahead be graced with secret rooms.

[For last year’s reflection on this passage, please visit Easter 2: Into the Wound.]

This week’s artwork first appeared at The Advent Door in Door 24: The Secret Room.

Mysteries of the Magdalene

April 5, 2009


Here on the threshold of Holy Week, I’ve had Mary Magdalene on my mind. Scripturally speaking, what we know of her story comes almost entirely from the gospel accounts of the final days of Jesus, where the Magdalene emerges as a faithful disciple who journeys with Jesus from the cross to the empty tomb. She is the first to proclaim the news of Christ’s resurrection.

As if the scriptural accounts of her story weren’t intriguing enough, an imaginative web of legends gathered around the Magdalene in the centuries that followed. Short on fact but long on fascination, many of them tell of a woman of power and courage whose life was marked by devotion and mystery.

The legends gave rise to some wondrous medieval art, which in turn inspired my series The Hours of Mary Magdalene a few years ago. I’ve just finished a new print that brings together all eight images in the series, and I’d love to share it with you. It’s available on my website, where you can find it on the main page at You can also go straight to the Color Prints page, where prints of the individual pieces are available as well. Purchasing prints—or anything else on my website—goes directly toward supporting my ministry through The Wellspring Studio, LLC, and I am grateful beyond measure for your sustenance in this way!

Peace to you.