Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

Holy Saturday: The Art of Enduring

April 19, 2011

Holy Saturday II © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Holy Saturday:
Matthew 27.57-66 or John 19.38-42

Blessing for Holy Saturday

This blessing
can wait as long
as you can.


This blessing
began eons ago
and knows the art
of enduring.

This blessing
has passed
through ages
and generations,
witnessed the turning
of centuries,
weathered the spiraling
of history.

This blessing
is in no rush.

This blessing
will plant itself
by your door.

This blessing
will keep vigil
and chant prayers.

This blessing
will bring a friend
for company.

This blessing
will pack a lunch
and a thermos
of coffee.

This blessing
will bide
its sweet time

until it hears
the beginning
of breath,
the stirring
of limbs,
the stretching

of what had lain
dead within you
and is ready
to return.

P.S. For a previous reflection on Holy Saturday, see Holy Saturday: A Day Between. I’m also offering daily reflections throughout Holy Week at the Sanctuary of Women blog.

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

Good Friday: What Abides

April 19, 2011

Good Friday II © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Good Friday (April 22): John 18.1-19.42

Blessing for Good Friday

You will know
this blessing
by how it
does not stay still,
by the way it
refuses to rest
in one place.

You will recognize it
by how it takes
first one form,
then another:

now running down
the face of the mother
who watches the breaking
of the child
she had borne,

now in the stance
of the woman
who followed him here
and will not leave him

Now it twists in anguish
on the mouth of the friend
whom he loved;

now it bares itself
in the wound,
the cry,
the finishing and
final breath.

This blessing
is not in any one
of these alone.

It is what
binds them

It is what dwells
in the space
between them,
though it be torn
and gaping.

It is what abides
in the tear
the rending makes.

P.S. For a previous reflection on Good Friday, see Good Friday: In Which We Get Nailed. And blogging daily throughout Holy Week at the Sanctuary of Women blog.

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

A Blessing in Springtime

May 10, 2010

The Blessing Cups: Mary Magdalene and Jesus at Tea
© Jan L. Richardson

Hello, dear ones, and thank you for stopping by amidst my long absence from The Painted Prayerbook! What a wild and wondrous stretch of weeks (months) it has been. My sweetheart and I were married just over two weeks ago, on a bright spring day on the beautiful farm that has been in the Richardson family for several generations. It was an amazing day of being surrounded by family and friends who have shared this journey with us.

As Gary and I planned the celebration, the word that kept coming to mind was blessing. We wanted this to be a time of gathering up the folks who have been such blessings to us; to offer thanks; and for the day to be a blessing to them in turn. Toward that end, we invited a number of friends and family to offer blessings during our ceremony and reception. The words they offered—words of blessing for the community as well as for Gary and me—will linger with me for a long, long time.

I wanted to offer a blessing of my own for that day—to find some words to wrap around the extraordinary moment that Gary and I had been journeying toward for so long. Somehow, amidst the intensities of preparing for the wedding, some words showed up just in time, and I included them on the back of our printed wedding program. I offer them to you in gratitude for the ways that you bless me by sharing this path.

Here: A Blessing

Some other day, perhaps,
I could draw you a map of this place:
could show you the stand of trees
that has always seemed to me
haunted by those
whose arrowheads still surface
now and again by the lake;
could show you the spot
where eagles keep their nest;
the silo
where my grandfather and his siblings
carved their names
into the new concrete;
the place where I stood
the night the old depot burned.

But I think today is a day
for remembering
how all our history
comes down to our hands,
how we carry the lines
that our ancestors
pressed into our palms:
a geography of the generations
inscribed upon us like a map.

And so let it be
that before we leave
this place
this day
we lay our hands—
the cartography
ever etched into our skin—
upon this ancient terrain
in gratitude and praise

and then, rising,
turn them skyward:
a blessing
a benediction
a prayer
that the wind will carry
far and far
from here.

In these spring days (and in these autumn days, for my friends in the southern hemisphere), where are you finding blessings? How are you offering them in turn?

On another note, I want to let you know that as I move into our new house, I have a few pieces of art that I’m feeling ready to send on their way. These are pieces that have had a special place in my space and my life, but as Gary and I make a new home together, it feels like time for them to find a new home of their own. Perhaps yours? I have a few of the pieces remaining from the series The Hours of Mary Magdalene, along with The Lenten Series (created for Peter Storey’s book Listening at Golgotha), and am offering them at a reduced price for a limited time. Through June 15, pieces from the Magdalene series are available individually for $900 (originally $1200), and the entire Lenten series is available for $2400 (originally $3000). To view the Magdalene series, I invite you to visit The Hours of Mary Magdalene and click on the individual images to see what’s available. You can visit the Lenten pieces by clicking The Lenten Series. Thanks for giving thought to whether any of these images might be inviting you to take them home. If so, I welcome you to contact me by leaving a comment here (I won’t publish any comments related to an art purchase) or emailing me via my website at And know that art prints of these and other images are always available at that site and at

Much gratitude and many blessings to you in these May 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.

Feast of the Epiphany: A Calendar of Kings

January 6, 2009

Adoration of the Magi © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Epiphany: Matthew 2.1-12

A blessed Epiphany to you! During the season that has brought us to this feast day, one of the CDs I’ve been listening to is Wolcum Yule: Celtic and British Songs and Carols by the wondrous vocal group Anonymous 4. My favorite piece on this CD is “A Calendar of Kings,” which began as a poem by George Mackay Brown, the prolific poet of Orkney (in northern Scotland) who died a dozen years ago. The poem’s musical setting was composed by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, whose composition honors and evokes the haunting enchantment of Mackay Brown’s words. In the liner notes, Maxwell Davies comments, “From the imagery, with ice, snowdrops, and daffodils, it is clear that the journey lasts a season, and that the poet has transplanted the setting from the Middle East to his native land and seascape in Orkney, bringing the nativity home in a very vivid way.”

Copyright considerations prevent me from including the entire text of “A Calendar of Kings” here, but here’s an Epiphany treat: you can find the poem by visiting this page on a site devoted to George Mackay Brown. As a lovely bonus, the page includes several pieces from a textile art series whose creators drew their inspiration from this poem. Think of the page as an Epiphany card to you, fashioned by folks who brought their creative eyes and souls to this story of wise ones who dared to undertake a rather strange trip to welcome the God who was born among us.

The image above (slightly cropped for today’s purpose) is from my series The Advent Hours. I wrote this to accompany the artwork:

Pondering the patterns of the heavens, the wise ones found one star, one light that called to them, compelled them, set them on the road. And they came, arriving upon the star-drenched landscape where dwelled the hope of the world in the garb of a child. They stretched out their hands to him, the brilliance of the sky now shimmering in their exquisite gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.

I’m taking a bit of time off this week but am aiming to have a reflection on Epiphany 1/Baptism of Jesus posted within the next couple of days. In the meantime, I welcome you to visit last year’s reflection on Matthew’s version of Jesus’ baptism, Epiphany 1: Ceremony (With a Side of Cake).

I’ll send out the Epiphany edition of my e-newsletter this afternoon, so if you’d like to receive it and haven’t already subscribed, I invite you to join my mailing list here.

Merry Epiphany! For this day, for this year, may you have light for the path and, as George Mackay Brown writes of the kings, a place to unload your treasures.

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