Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

A Blessing with Roots

July 5, 2011

Getting Grounded ©  Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Proper 10/Ordinary 15/Pentecost +4 (July 10): Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23

During our recent Saint Brigid’s retreat, we were treated to a poetry reading from Father Kilian McDonnell, one of the Benedictine monks of Saint John’s Abbey, where our retreat took place. Having been on the retreat a few years earlier when Fr. Kilian came and shared his poems, I had been looking forward to his return visit with much anticipation.

For most of his life Fr. Kilian (who I first introduced in this post at The Advent Door) has worked as a theologian—teaching at Saint John’s University, writing scholarly books and articles on systematic theology, and taking a leading role in ecumenical work. At 75, in his so-called retirement, Fr. Kilian began to write poetry. In an essay that he wrote eight years after his poetic beginnings and included in his first published collection of poems (Swift, Lord, You Are Not), Fr. Kilian describes how, while reading a poem in the New Republic, “I said to myself, ‘I think I can do as well.'”

He acknowledges that his career as a scholar writing theology “out of a dogmatic, abstract, highly authoritarian, text-bound tradition” and dealing not only with the scriptures but also with “conciliar decrees, papal encyclicals, episcopal pronouncements, all highly conceptual, content and meaning-oriented,” had not prepared him particularly well for a vocation as a creative writer. “Too much imagination in theological writing,” Fr. Kilian observes, “can bring you to the stake.” Even in his own monastery, Fr. Kilian’s turn toward poetry was looked on by some as, if not outright dangerous, then a frivolous pursuit; he tells in one of his poems of a monk in the community who says, “Kilian does not have/enough to do./He writes poetry.”

Yet he has persisted. And as he prepares to turn 90 this year, Fr. Kilian is anticipating the publication of his fourth book of poems (the first having been followed by Yahweh’s Other Shoe and God Drops and Loses Things). It’s due out next month and is titled Wrestling with God. During his afternoon with us, Fr. Kilian gave us a sneak peek of the poems in this forthcoming book.

Most of Fr. Kilian’s poetry finds its grounding in the scriptures. And while some folks with stereotypes about monks, poetry, and the scriptures—let alone a combination of the three—might suppose that a longtime monk who takes his inspiration from the Bible would produce poetry that is ethereal or sentimental, Fr. Kilian’s poems provide a wondrous witness to how the contemplative life calls us deeper into the world, not away from it. Part of Fr. Kilian’s charm and punch as a poet lies in his earthiness (evident in such poems as “The Ox’s Broad Behind”), as well as in his willingness to go deep and deep into the layers of the biblical stories and to confront and call forth, with his piercing poet’s eye, the complexities of human life in this world given to us by a God who is both marvelous and maddening.

I will tell you that it is a wonder to be in the poetic presence of someone who has been pondering the Word—praying with it, contemplating it, ruminating upon it—in spitting distance of a century. Although we are not all called to become poets, Fr. Kilian’s deep engagement with the Word offers a window onto a life where the Word has found good soil and has born fruit, as this week’s Parable of the Sower calls us to.

As I ruminate on this week’s parable, I find myself wondering: What soil—what earth—is the Word finding in our own lives these days? How do we seek out the Word—in the scriptures and in the person of Christ—in the rhythm of our days? How willing are we to go deep into the layers and complexities it offers to us? How do we take the Word into ourselves and let it take root across the span of seasons and years? What fruit are we called to let the Word bear in and through us?

A Blessing with Roots

Tug at this blessing
and you will find
it is a thing
with roots.

This is a blessing
that has gone deep
into good soil,
into the sacred dark,
into the luminous hidden.

It has been months
since the ground
gathered the seed
of this blessing
into itself,
years since the earth
enfolded it.

that’s how long
a blessing takes.

And the fact
that this blessing
should finally show
its first fruits
on the day
you happened by—

well, perhaps we shall
simply call the timing
of this ripening
a mystery
and a sweet grace.

Take all you want
of this blessing.
Take every morsel
that you need for
the path ahead.
Let its fruits fall
into your hands;
gather them into
the basket of
your arms.

Let this blessing
be one place
where you are willing
to receive
in unmeasured portions,
to lay aside
for a moment
the way you ration
your delights.

Let yourself accept
its inexplicable plenitude;
allow it to give itself
to sustain you

not simply for yourself—
though on this bright day
I might be persuaded
to think that would
be enough—

but that you may
gather its seeds
into yourself
like the ground
where this blessing began

and wait
with the patience
of seasons
and of years

to bear forth
in the fullness of time
a stunning harvest,
a plenteous feast.

P.S. For a previous reflection on this passage, see Getting Grounded.

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

Related artwork:

Into the Seed

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.

Into Advent

November 22, 2010

Where Advent Begins © Jan L. Richardson

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

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

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

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

One Fish, Two Fish

July 20, 2009

A Gracious Plenty © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Year B, Proper 12/Ordinary 17/Pentecost +8: John 6.1-21

For folks just tuning in, I want to mention that I’m mostly (though not entirely, as it’s turned out) taking a break from offering lectionary reflections this summer, as I’m up to my eyeballs working on a new book that’s due next month. Finishing a book in the midst of a hot and rainy Florida summer is proving quite a feat of endurance! Prayers are very, very welcome as I persist with the pages. Deadline pressures aside, I am glad to be so immersed in the making of a new book.

Every book seems to require and invite something different of me, and that’s certainly been the case with this one. One of the things I’ve especially felt a need to do has been to invite some folks to be in prayer for and with me. Writing is such solitary work that I sometimes forget that there are ways I can invite people into the process. In recent weeks I’ve become more intentional about doing this. The responses have been wondrous and heartening. Folks have offered not only prayers and blessings but also some tangible reminders of their presence in my life. My writing nook now holds such gifts as a prayer flag that artist friends painted for me, a string of prayer beads made by a friend who attached a St. Brigid’s cross of green marble from Connemara, a photo of my seminary girlfriends whom I gather with over Labor Day weekend every year, a buckeye (for luck) from a friend in Kentucky, a stone carved with the word “Presence,” and cards with wonderful words of support and blessing. My writer’s soul is feeling well fed.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about provision—how I seek it, how I offer it. Recognizing what I need can be a real challenge sometimes—and asking for it, even more so. Yet I’ve learned that in order to provide for others, in order to be a blessing to others, I have to discern what provision I need for my own self, and to seek it out. Though sometimes it comes unbidden, which is always a wondrous gift of grace, I find that it’s more likely to show up when I remember to invite it.

This Sunday’s gospel lesson about the feeding of the five thousand offers good food for thought as I continue to ponder what I need, what I’m hungry for, and what sustenance will carry me through these days, that I may in turn participate, like the disciples, in meeting people at the point of their own hunger.

I wrote a reflection on Matthew’s version of this miraculous feeding last year; I invite you to visit it by clicking this link: A Gracious Plenty.

This Sunday’s lection from John also includes a story of Jesus’ walking on the water. If you’re looking for some artwork to accompany this portion of the passage, I invite you to visit several earlier collages that I created for watery themes, including Matthew’s version of Jesus and Peter walking on the water (first image below). Clicking on each image below will take you to that image’s page at Clicking the titles below will take you to the blog reflection where the collage originally appeared.

In these days, may we know and ask for the provision we need, that we may share in offering sustenance to others. Blessings to you!


Night Passage

Lent 2: In Which We Get Goosed


Lent 3: The Way of Water


Epiphany 1: Take Me to the River

Stirring the Sleeping Savior

June 15, 2009

Reading from the Gospels, Proper 7/Ordinary 12/Pentecost +3: Mark 4.35-41

As often happens, I find myself struck by the ways that the landscape of the lectionary intersects with the landscape of my own life. Pondering Mark’s telling of how Jesus stills the windstorm that springs up during their evening crossing of the sea, I think of doing battle last week with a bout of anxiety that had pressed hard upon me. I generally experience myself as a pretty calm person, blessed both with a natural disposition and acquired skills that enable me to move through my days with relative equanimity. Yet last week, as I grappled with a summertime deadline for the new book I’m working on [In the Sanctuary of Women], my stress exacerbated by preparing for a trip that would disrupt my already-tight schedule, I experienced a level of anxiety that was foreign to me. In the midst of it, I had trouble recognizing my normally calm self.

Like the disciples, I called on some help in the midst of the storm. A series of conversations with my wise sweetheart helped me return my focus to where it needed to be: on the book, not on the looming deadline. As I became able to reorient my attention, my anxiety began to slide away. I modified my travel plans in a way that reduced my stress, gave myself to the delights of reconnecting with friends and family in the places I visited, and when I returned over the weekend, I took some Sabbath time before diving back into the book.

We Christians sometimes describe anxiety and fear as the flip side of faith, casting them as opposites and chastising one another—or ourselves—for not having enough faith to still our fears. It’s true that faith and fear have a hard time living together. Fear and anxiety can seduce us into a frantic loop in which our perceptions grow so distorted that we may completely lose the path that would carry us through our fears. Like the disciples, we become swamped. They were right to feel afraid. Yet their perception that their reality was defined solely by the storm only increased their experience of being overwhelmed. The presence of the storm was not the whole truth of their situation—a fact that the sleeping savior in the stern would soon remind them of.

There is plenty of cause to be anxious and fearful in these days, and for better reasons than a looming book deadline. Anyone who’s not feeling some anxiety probably isn’t paying enough attention to what’s going on. Living in denial is not the same as having faith. Whatever the sources of our anxiety, faith helps to provide the tools we need to maintain our vision and to see the truth within the waves that seek to command our whole attention. Faith asks us where we are turning our sight, and what we are allowing to define our reality.

Pondering all this, I revisited an article that Sharon Salzberg, the noted author and Buddhist teacher, wrote for the January 2002 article of O Magazine. In her article, titled “Choosing Faith over Fear,” Salzberg writes,

Faith demands that, despite our fear, we get as close as possible to the truth of the present moment so that we can offer our hearts fully to it, with integrity. Faith is willing to engage the unknown, not shrink back from it. Faith doesn’t mean the absence of fear. It means having the energy to go ahead, right alongside the fear. The word courage in English has the same etymological root as the French coeur, which means “heart.” With courage we openly acknowledge what we can’t control, and place our hearts wisely on our ability to connect with the truth of the moment and to move forward into the uncharted terrain of the next moment.

We might (and often must) hope and plan and arrange and try, but faith enables us to be fully engaged while also realizing that we are not in control. To be able to make an intense effort—to heal, to speak, to create, to alleviate our suffering or the suffering of others—while guided by a vision of life with all its mutability, evanescence, dislocations, and unruliness, is the particular gift of faith.

When the sleeping savior stirs in response to his disciples’ cries, he doesn’t tell them to have no fear. He instead invites them to examine why they are afraid—in essence, to consider how and why they have let the windstorm rule their reality—and calls upon them to have a measure of faith that will accompany them amid their fears and help to restore their vision.

How’s the weather in your world this week? Are there any storms raging that have you feeling overwhelmed with anxiety or fear? Where might you find help amid the storm? How might God be inviting you to shift your attention in a way that helps you recognize that the storm does not have the final word? Instead of experiencing fear and anxiety as bullies that leave us feeling helpless, how might it be to receive them as messengers who invite us to refocus our vision? How would it be to pray that God would turn your anxiety into energy for moving forward?

Time for me to return to the book. Letting go of my anxiety is helping me work better, but it doesn’t lessen the amount of work yet to be done! No new collage this week, but if you’re looking for some artwork to accompany this passage, I invite you to visit several earlier collages that I created for watery themes. Clicking on each image below will take you to that image’s page on my new website, Clicking the title below each image will take you to the reflection where the collage originally appeared.

In every landscape, may you know the gift of faith. Blessings.

Lent 2: In Which We Get Goosed


Lent 3: The Way of Water


Night Passage


Epiphany 1: Take Me to the River

P.S. A belated Happy Ordinary Time to you! For a reflection on crossing into the season of Ordinary Time last year, I invite you to visit this post.

Looking toward Lent

February 20, 2009


As Ash Wednesday approaches, I thought this would be a good time to do a bit of housekeeping here at The Painted Prayerbook. I have a few artful Lenten offerings I want to let you know about, along with some related news.

ORIGINAL ART: The artwork above is a series of charcoals that I did several years ago for Peter Storey’s book Listening at Golgotha, which offers a collection of reflections on the Seven Last Words of Jesus. The original artwork is available for sale (as an intact series), beautifully matted and framed. Great for a church, chapel, or other space for devotion/worship, especially during Lent and Holy Week. For more information, visit The Seven Last Words Series.

MORE ORIGINAL ART: I have a few of the original pieces from The Hours of Mary Magdalene available. For details, visit The Hours of Mary Magdalene and click on the individual images.

ART PRINTS: All of the images from The Seven Last Words Series and The Hours of Mary Magdalene are available as prints; check out the Art Prints page on my website. You can also purchase prints of The Lenten Series (illustrations from my book Garden of Hollows) as well as prints of artwork from my books and my blogs.

A LITERARY LENT: Published through my small press, Garden of Hollows: Entering the Mysteries of Lent & Easter offers artwork and reflections on the sacred texts and themes of the coming season. You can read excerpts and order at Wanton Gospeller Press. My book In Wisdom’s Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season includes a section for Lent and Easter. Visit the Books page on my website for details on this book that includes lavish, full-color artwork.

IMAGES ONLINE: Thanks so much to everyone who has requested permission to use my artwork. In response to the number of requests, I’m working to create a website that will enable congregations and other communities to download high-resolution files of my images for use in worship and educational settings (bulletin covers, PowerPoint, etc.). The artwork will be available for a per-image fee, or, for an annual subscription, churches can have access to all the images for a whole year. I’m aiming to have this ready sometime this spring, and I look forward to having this new service available as a way to share mutual creative support with worshiping communities and other groups. In the meantime, I am always happy to respond to individual requests. Thank you for being mindful that, like most artwork, the images on my blogs, website, and in my books are under copyright. I am really happy for folks to make use of my artwork, but permission must be sought for use of these images in any format. Details and contact info are available at Copyright Permissions.

eNEWSLETTER: I send out an e-newsletter every month or so. It includes a seasonal reflection, artwork, information about current offerings and upcoming events, and whatever else strikes my creative fancy. I would be delighted to include you in my mailing list if you haven’t already subscribed. You can sign up here.

GRATITUDE: Most of all, thank you for visiting The Painted Prayerbook and for the sustenance and companionship you provide along the way. Your comments, emails, prayers, and presence are all tremendous gifts on my path. Please know that I pray for you and that I carry a heap of gratitude for the ways you help make possible my work in this world.

Many blessings to you in these remaining days of Epiphany!

Transfiguration Sunday: Show and (Don’t) Tell

February 15, 2009

Transfiguration © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Transfiguration Sunday, Year B: Mark 9.2-9

One of the greatest challenges in being a writer—or an artist or a preacher, for that matter—is discerning what to reveal and what to conceal. It’s a tricky thing, figuring out how much of our own experience should make its way into our work in an obvious fashion. There’s no well-defined line, though I find that my gut tends to sound the alert when it senses that something I’m reading or viewing or listening to has tilted toward providing Too Much Information.

The TMI syndrome doesn’t simply involve an overabundance of content; sometimes it’s a matter of timing. I read a book some years ago that the author crafted around a profound experience that had taken place not all that long before she began to write about it. I remember wishing she had waited a while. Clearly the act of telling the story was an integral part of how she processed the experience, but it struck me that both she and the story would have benefited from giving herself more time and space before offering that experience to the public. I find myself wondering what the story feels like to her years later, how the experience of sitting with it, pondering it, reading it over time might have honed and deepened her telling of it.

I’ve been thinking about that elusive line between revelation and concealment as I’ve pondered the gospel lection for next Sunday. It seems we’ve only recently tidied up from Christmas and Epiphany, and we’re already approaching Transfiguration Sunday and the threshold of Lent. Next Sunday’s reading beckons us to pause and gather ourselves for a moment in this space between the seasons of Epiphany and Lent, and to give thought to the questions this passage poses. Mark does the transfigurative honors for us this year with his account of this strange journey that Jesus takes with a trio of his disciples.

The transfiguring of Jesus provides a dazzling, dizzying experience for those who have accompanied him up the mountain. One can well understand that Peter, James, and John would desire to find a form for their experience, some kind of container to help them absorb and define what has taken place. We perceive this in Peter’s impulse to construct dwellings for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Faced with an event of overwhelming spiritual import, he responds at a physical level: Let me build something.

Peter’s offer is still on his lips when a bright cloud envelops them, a voice from within it speaking words akin to those that came from heaven at the moment of Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” The word for what the cloud does is overshadow, from the Greek word episkiazo. We’ve seen this word before. It appears in the angel Gabriel’s conversation with Mary, when he responds to her question about how it will be possible for her to give birth to the child whom he has asked her to bear. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” he tells her, “and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1.35).

In the gospels, the Annunciation is the only occasion besides the Transfiguration that this word appears. The gospel writers’ use of the word draws our attention to the resonance between the story of the Annunciation to Mary and the story of the Transfiguration. Each tale reminds us that we cannot contain or confine God within man-made structures. When God shows up, God often appears in and through people: God goes not for architecture but for anatomy. Or, rather, God makes architecture of our anatomy: God seeks to make of us a dwelling, a habitation for the holy.

This business of being host to the divine is no easy thing, God (literally) knows. So it’s interesting that the soon-to-be-mother Mary and the flat-on-their-faces disciples each receive precisely the same assurance: Do not be afraid. And each goes on their way, carrying something they had not previously known.

In the absence of being able to build physical dwellings, the disciples would have wanted, I suspect, to construct a story about their mountaintop experience: a container of words, at least, that would help them hold and convey what had happened to Jesus and to themselves. Perhaps anticipating this, Jesus enjoins them not to tell what has transpired until after his resurrection. It’s one of the only times that Jesus, a man of action, urges them to wait. This is not for revealing, he tells them; this is for you to carry within you, to ponder, to conceal until the fullness of time.

Perhaps like Mary with the child in her womb.

It was important that Peter, James, and John have that mountaintop experience. It wasn’t important for them to tell the story, not yet; that wasn’t the point of their outing. But the experience would work on them, shape them, and continue to transform and perhaps even transfigure them. The knowledge they carried would alter every future encounter: with Jesus, with their fellow disciples, and with those to whom they ministered.

The story of the Transfiguration calls me to remember that there are times for revealing and times for concealing. There are seasons to tell our story. And there are seasons to hold the story within us so that we can absorb it, reflect on it, and let it (and us) grow into a form that will foster the telling.

As a writer and artist and preacher, I don’t claim to handle that line between revelation and concealment with consistent finesse. But I’ve figured out that one of the core questions in discerning whether to share an experience is this: Whom does the story serve? Does my telling it help you reflect on your life and how God is stirring within it? Or does it merely provide information I think you should know about my own life because I hope it will impress you and induce a response that serves me more than it does you?

How do you discern what and where to share about your life? Whom do your stories serve? Do you have a story of transformation that could help someone else? Is it time to tell it? Is there work that God still needs to do within you so that you can tell the story in the way it needs telling? Whether revealing or concealing, how are you continuing to become a dwelling for the presence of the God who transforms us?

Blessings to you in these threshold days.

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

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!

Inviting Epiphany

December 30, 2008

Wise Women Also Came © Jan L. Richardson

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

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

Wise Women Also Came

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace to you in this time of turning.

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

Something Old, Something New

July 23, 2008

Something Old, Something New © Jan L. Richardson

While I was at St. John’s University in Minnesota last week, I made a couple of visits to the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (known in those parts as the HMML). The Benedictine monks of St. John’s founded the HMML to preserve the medieval manuscript heritage of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, and it’s always a favorite destination for a girl with a blog called The Painted Prayerbook. This summer the HMML is home to a tasty exhibition of original folios from The Saint John’s Bible, the first Bible to be written and illustrated entirely by hand in more than five hundred years. Featuring the Wisdom Books section of The St. John’s Bible, the exhibition marks the completion of five of the planned seven volumes of this contemporary manuscript. By the time that Donald Jackson and his team of scribes and artists complete their lavish, monumental work, the Bible will have absorbed about ten years of their lives.

A group was touring the exhibition during one of my visits to the museum. As I took in the folios, with the gold dancing on their pages, I tuned an ear to the comments that the group’s HMML guide offered. After her presentation, she fielded a number of questions. “Why,” one person asked, “in this age of high-quality printing technology, would someone spend the time to create an entire Bible by hand?” As the guide responded, she spoke about the value of recovering ancient practices of bookmaking as a sacred art, and of the beauty that emerges in fashioning something by hand. She pointed out that contemporary technology has played a significant role in The Saint John’s Bible; a designer used a computer to plan the entire layout of the pages before the team began to lay the first strokes of ink, paint, and gold leaf on the vellum sheets.

It’s a treasure that draws from what is old and what is new.

We hear about such treasures in this week’s gospel lection, Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52. Jesus, who is in a parable-telling mood at this point in the gospel, offers a series of images that describe what the kingdom of heaven is like. He speaks of a mustard seed that grows into a tree, yeast that a woman mixes with flour, a man who discovers treasure hidden in a field, a merchant who finds a pearl of great value, and a net filled with fish. Jesus closes the litany of images by saying, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

The scribe about whom Jesus speaks is a rather different sort of scribe than those who have been laboring over The Saint John’s Bible. Jesus’ scribe is one versed in Mosaic Law, a person who knows and draws from the wealth of the law and also recognizes new treasure when it appears. Yet the scribes of The Saints John’s Bible, and the pages they have created, embody what Jesus’ kingdom-images evoke. Each reminds us of how the holy, which so often seems hidden, emerges when we stretch ourselves into searching for it, seeking it, laboring toward it. The bakerwoman kneading in her kitchen, the man who sells all that he has to buy the field, the merchant who gives up everything to purchase the pearl of great price, the scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven, the householder who brings forth treasure old and new: each of these has given themselves, devoted themselves, to a particular process by which treasure emerges. They know what skills it takes, what vision, what devotion. Each trained in their particular art, they possess in their bones the knowledge that tells them what ingredient to use, what tools old or new to employ, what treasure lies before them.

Offering these images, Jesus recognizes there are things that are worth a long devotion; there is treasure worth giving ourselves to for a decade, a lifetime. Such treasure might not have a usefulness that is obvious, or readily grasped. In a world where technological shortcuts abound (and are useful at times, to be sure)—bread machines, metal detectors, faux pearls, computer printers—something happens when we take the long way around, when we hunt for the holy that often loves to hide in work that takes time, takes the development of skill, takes commitment, takes the long view.

I think of when I was first learning calligraphy a few years ago. There was no getting around the need for practice. Over weeks and months, as I covered page after page with ink, shaky lines steadily grew more sure, and awkwardness began to give way to art.

This type of long laboring and searching reveals something about our own selves. Submitting ourselves to a process of practicing brings secret parts of ourselves to the surface; it draws us out and unhides us, and the holy that dwells within us. “The kingdom of God is among you,” Jesus says in Luke 17.21. Among us, and meant to be uncovered, to become visible, to offer sustenance and grace for the life of the world. Like bread. Trees. Pearls. Pages. Treasure born of what is old and what is new.

What treasure have you found, or long to find, in the hidden places of your life? What searching, what seeking might God be challenging you toward, to uncover what’s been buried? Is there anything in your life that invites you to encounter the holy in a process that takes time, practice, skill, devotion? What of yourself do you find in that, and what do you find of God?

May this week bring a hidden gift your way. Blessings.

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