Stubborn Blessing

August 11, 2014

MercyImage: Mercy © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Year A, Proper 15/Ordinary 20/Pentecost +10: Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28

A Canaanite woman from that region
came out and started shouting,

“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David;
my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
– Matthew 15:22

Clearly Jesus didn’t realize who he was messing with that day. Or did he? Perhaps Jesus knew precisely what he was doing and chose to use this encounter as a teaching moment for his hearers. Or perhaps he was simply in a stubborn mood and found himself facing someone who could match him easily, stubborn for stubborn. Either way, the story shows us that when it comes to saving what needs saving, being merely nice and pliant won’t win the day, or the life. Sometimes we need to dig in our heels and do some hollering.

Stubborn Blessing

Don’t tell me no.
I have seen you
feed the thousands,
seen miracles spill
from your hands
like water, like wine,
seen you with circles
and circles of crowds
pressed around you
and not one soul
turned away.

Don’t start with me.

I am saying
you can close the door
but I will keep knocking.
You can go silent
but I will keep shouting.
You can tighten the circle
but I will trace a bigger one
around you,
around the life of my child
who will tell you
no one surpasses a mother
for stubbornness.

I am saying
I know what you
can do with crumbs
and I am claiming mine,
every morsel and scrap
you have up your sleeve.
Unclench your hand,
your heart.
Let the scraps fall
like manna,
like mercy
for the life
of my child,
the life of
the world.

Don’t you tell me no.


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

The Feast Beneath
The Feast Beneath

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Mercy,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Walk Across That Water

August 5, 2014

Image: Walk Across That Water © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Year A, Proper 14/Ordinary 19/Pentecost +9: Matthew 14.22-33

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him.
– Matthew 14.31

Eight months have passed since Gary’s death: a moment, an aching eternity. I can tell you that I know what it means to be borne up when the waters overwhelm. I know the grace of hands that reach out to carry and console and give courage. I am learning—again, anew—what faith is, how this word that we sometimes toss around so casually holds depths within depths that will draw us beyond nearly everything we once believed.

This is some of what I know right now about faith:

That faith is not something I can summon by a sheer act of will.

That it lives and breathes in the community that encompasses us.

That I cannot force faith but can ask for it, can pray that it will make its way to me and bear me up over the next wave, and the next.

That it comes.

That I can lean into it.

That it will propel me not only toward the Christ who calls me, but also back toward the boat that holds my life, incomprehensible in both its pain and its grace.

What are you knowing about faith right now? Where is it bearing you?

Blessing that Bears the Wind, the Wave

That we will risk
the drenching
by which we
are drawn
toward the voice
that calls us,
the love
that catches us,
the faith
that carries us
beyond the wind,
the wave.

Blessing of Song: At the time of his death, Gary had nearly finished recording a wondrous new Song Chapel CD. One song, titled “Let Me Out of This Boat,” was inspired by this passage. I would love to share the song with you; you can listen to it by clicking the arrow on the audio player below. [For my email subscribers: if you don't see the audio player, click here to go to The Painted Prayerbook site, where you can view the player in this post.]

P.S. For a previous reflection on this passage (which includes “Blessing on the Waves”), click the image or title below:

Night Passage
Blessing on the Waves

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Walk Across That Water,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Pentecost: This Grace That Scorches Us

June 1, 2014

Pentecost Fire
Image: Pentecost Fire © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Book of Acts, Day of Pentecost: Acts 2.1-21

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them,
and a tongue rested on each of them.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in other languages,
as the Spirit gave them ability.
– Acts 2.3-4

If we didn’t know it before, we surely know it now, as the second chapter of Acts unfolds: this is no tame God who comes to us, no safe and predictable deity. This is the God whose loving sometimes takes the form of scorching.

Before he left, Jesus told his friends he would send them the Advocate, the Comforter. Now we see this Comforter coming as wind, as flame, reminding us that comfort is not always comfortable, for it makes itself known in community, where we find the most searing challenges—and the deepest blessings—we will ever know.

This Grace That Scorches Us
A Blessing for Pentecost Day

Here’s one thing
you must understand
about this blessing:
it is not
for you alone.

It is stubborn
about this;
do not even try
to lay hold of it
if you are by yourself,
thinking you can carry it
on your own.

To bear this blessing,
you must first take yourself
to a place where everyone
does not look like you
or think like you,
a place where they do not
believe precisely as you believe,
where their thoughts
and ideas and gestures
are not exact echoes
of your own.

Bring your sorrow. Bring your grief.
Bring your fear. Bring your weariness,
your pain, your disgust at how broken
the world is, how fractured,
how fragmented
by its fighting, its wars,
its hungers, its penchant for power,
its ceaseless repetition
of the history it refuses
to rise above.

I will not tell you
this blessing will fix all that.

But in the place
where you have gathered,
wait.
Watch.
Listen.
Lay aside your inability
to be surprised,
your resistance to what you
do not understand.

See then whether this blessing
turns to flame on your tongue,
sets you to speaking
what you cannot fathom

or opens your ear
to a language
beyond your imagining
that comes as a knowing
in your bones
a clarity
in your heart
that tells you

this is the reason
we were made,
for this ache
that finally opens us,

for this struggle, this grace
that scorches us
toward one another
and into
the blazing day.


For previous reflections, blessings, and art for Pentecost, click the images or titles below:

Tongues as of Fire
Pentecost: When We Breathe Together


The Origin of Fire
Pentecost: The Origin of Fire


Pentecost
Pentecost: One Searing Word


Fire and Breath

Pentecost: Fire and Breath

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Pentecost Fire,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Ash Wednesday: The Hands that Hold the Ashes

February 27, 2014


Image: Blessing the Dust © Jan Richardson

Readings for Ash Wednesday: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51:1-17;
2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10
; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

My husband’s ashes are in the keeping of my brother. Scott is holding onto them until the day I can bear to gather them up and release them. On that day, we will bury Gary’s ashes on the farm that has been in the Richardson family for more than a century; the farm where, on a bright spring day so recently, Gary and I were married.

You can imagine that Ash Wednesday will feel different for me this year and always. The sheer fact of Gary’s ashes poses questions that stagger me and make me ache: questions that I am working my way through ever so slowly, questions for which I do not anticipate ever having answers.

In the midst of my struggle and sorrow, what I keep seeing are the hands that hold the ashes—my brother’s hands, and the hands of those who, in gatherings around the world next Wednesday, will trace the sign of the cross on each brow: sign of repentance and release, sign of stubborn hope. If I never make sense of the ashes and their awful and aching mystery, I can hold on, at least, to the hands that bear them, and that bear me up in these days.

How about you?

Blessings, blessings to you as Lent draws near.

Will You Meet Us
A Blessing for Ash Wednesday

Will you meet us
in the ashes
will you meet us
in the ache
and show your face
within our sorrow
and offer us
your word of grace:

That you are life
within the dying
that you abide
within the dust
that you are what
survives the burning
that you arise
to make us new.

And in our aching
you are breathing
and in our weeping
you are here
within the hands
that bear your blessing
enfolding us
within your love.


An invitation into Lent…

During Lent, most of my creative energies will be going toward the new online retreat that I’m offering for the season (March 4-April 21). I would love to have your company on this journey and to stay connected with you as Lent unfolds. Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, the retreat is designed as a space of elegant simplicity that you can enter from wherever you are, at any time that works for you.

I sometimes hear from folks who say, “I’d love to do this but I don’t have time for a retreat!” I completely get that, and so I have especially designed this retreat so that you can engage as much or as little as you wish, in the way that fits best for you. Rather than being one more thing to add to your Lenten schedule, this retreat weaves easily and simply through your days.

For more info and registration, please visit our overview page at Online Lenten Retreat. And please share this link with your friends! (We have group rates available for folks who want to share the retreat together near or far.) You can even give the Lenten retreat as a gift! If you have questions about the retreat, or concerns about things that you think might hinder you from sharing in the journey, be sure to check out our FAQ page (you’ll find a link on the overview page).


For previous reflections, blessings, and art for Ash Wednesday, please see these posts:

Ash Wednesday: Blessing the Dust
Ash Wednesday: Rend Your Heart
The Memory of Ashes
Upon the Ashes (which features the indomitable Sojourner Truth)
The Artful Ashes
Ash Wednesday, Almost

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Blessing the Dust,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Transfiguration Sunday: When Glory

February 23, 2014


Image: Transfiguration II © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Transfiguration Sunday, Year A (March 2): Matthew 17.1-9

And he was transfigured before them,
and his face shone like the sun,
and his clothes became dazzling white.
—Matthew 17.1-2

I am painting again. For the first time since Gary went into the hospital—more than three months ago now—I have picked up my brushes and palette knives and paints. It has been a huge threshold to cross; I had to pack up my art supplies and leave town in order to do it.

Gary has been such a part of my creative process that it’s hard to imagine how to create on my own again. Our studios were on opposite sides of the house, and we regularly traveled (or hollered) back and forth between them as we worked. My husband was a remarkable thinking partner, possessed of a keen ability to notice what was happening in a painting or a piece of writing and to help me find my way when I became stuck. He saw everything—every image, every word—before I released it into the world. He sometimes saw things even before I did, pointing toward possibilities that were stirring but I hadn’t yet perceived.

Whether on our individual projects or the ones we collaborated on, our process was deeply intertwined. Having experienced that for years, the prospect of beginning to paint again in my too-empty house felt daunting, so I spent the past week at my parents’ home, where I commandeered the kitchen table and set up a makeshift studio. I wept when I sat down before the blank surface. And then I picked up my paintbrush and began. I hardly knew how to begin, but I began.

The week has provided a powerful reminder of a curious tension that the creative process (and life) asks us to hold: to claim and live into a vision, while at the same time remaining open to the surprises that occur—those moments when, after weeks or months or sometimes years, our faithfulness in showing up and tending the vision suddenly draws us into a dramatic shift, a new way of seeing and working. Even as we lean in the direction of our vision, the process asks us to relax our hold on our fixed ideas and habitual patterns, so that we can recognize what waits to emerge.

I didn’t intentionally time my return to painting to occur in such close proximity to Transfiguration Sunday. Yet I have found myself noticing the resonance, and paying attention to what stirs for me in this story of the three who followed Jesus up the mountain and had to follow him back down again. Life has required me, in a painfully vivid fashion, to release what I have counted on most. As I navigate the new terrain of my life, I am continually faced with choices—in my painting, in my writing, in the agonizing sorting of Gary’s things, in every aspect of every unfolding day—about what to hold onto, and what to let go. In the midst of all this, our story this week asks me, In all the changing, what abides? In the leaving and letting go, what gift still goes with us? How will we allow ourselves to be transformed by the transfigured Christ who accompanies us in every place?

The story of the Transfiguration is not simply about learning to leave the mountaintop, or about releasing what we have grown attached to. It’s not just about resisting our desire to turn moments of transcendence into monuments. The story of the Transfiguration is about opening our eyes to glory, allowing that glory to alter us, and becoming willing to walk where it leads us. The story urges us to trust that what we have seen, what we have known, will go with us. It assures us that the gifts received on the mountaintop will continue to illuminate us not only on level ground but even when we walk in the valley of the shadow.

When Glory
A Blessing for Transfiguration Sunday

That when glory comes
we will open our eyes
to see it.

That when glory shows up
we will let ourselves
be overcome
not by fear
but by the love
it bears.

That when glory shines
we will bring it
back with us
all the way
all the way
all the way down.


BELOVED: An Online Journey into Lent & Easter, March 4-April 21
Are you hungry for an experience that draws you into Lent without feeling like it’s just one more thing to add to your schedule? Join us for this online retreat that easily fits into the flow (or chaos!) of your days, inviting you into an elegantly simple space to reflect on your journey and find sustenance for your path. Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, this retreat is a great way to journey toward Easter, from anywhere you are. Click Online Lenten Retreat or the image below for details and registration. Group and congregational rates are available!

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


Transfiguration Sunday: Dazzling



Transfiguration: Back to the Drawing Board



Transfiguration Sunday: Show and (Don’t) Tell

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “Transfiguration II,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print—just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section when you click the link to the image on the JRI site.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

 

Beloved: An Online Retreat for Lent

February 20, 2014

Lent is drawing close, already! It was such a remarkable gift to travel through Advent with so many of you on the Illuminated retreat. As we look to this new season, I would love for you to join us for the all-new online retreat that I’ll be offering during Lent. Here’s a glimpse of what’s ahead:

BELOVED: An Online Journey into Lent & Easter
March 4 – April 21
New for 2014!

This online retreat is not about adding one more thing to your schedule! It is about helping you find spaces for reflection that draw you deep into the mysteries and gifts of this season. Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, this retreat offers a space of elegant simplicity as you journey through Lent.

You can join in the retreat from anywhere you are; you do not have to show up at a particular place or time. You’re welcome to engage the retreat as much or as little as you wish, in the way that works best for you. If you’re hungry for a simple way to move deeply into this season, this retreat is for you.

Group and congregational rates are available. You can also give the retreat as a gift! For retreat details, FAQs, and registration, visit Online Lenten Retreat.

The season of Lent invites us to know, most of all, how utterly and thoroughly God loves us, and to let go of everything that would keep us from receiving and responding to that love. This invitation is at the heart of the Beloved Lenten Retreat. If that sounds good to you—if you’d like to lean into the love that enfolds and encompasses you—I would love to travel with you.

Blessings to you as Lent approaches.

A Blessing for the Brokenhearted

February 10, 2014

Valentine

Gary and I typically didn’t make a big deal out of Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t for any lack of romance; in fact, just the opposite. In a relationship where our primary name for each other was always Sweetheart, Valentine’s Day simply seemed redundant.

Still, we gave a nod to the day by exchanging cards. And chocolates. Just a few days ago, while sorting through some of Gary’s things—a wrenching task I am having to undertake in tiny doses—I discovered that my sweetheart had saved every single card I had ever given to him: every Valentine’s Day card, every birthday card, every anniversary card. Many of them were handmade. I created the one above—in which the heart opens from the center to reveal another heart beneath—for one of our first Valentine’s Days.

Looking at the card now, I think of the nurse’s words just after Gary died. I had placed my hand on his chest and remarked on how strange it was to feel a heartbeat and know it was only my own pulse. “His heart beats in you now,” she said to me.

Though Gary and I didn’t make a big deal of Valentine’s Day, February 14 will still give me pause this time around. I know I’m not alone in not looking forward to the day. But instead of simply dreading it, I thought this seemed like a good starting place for a blessing. If you’re living with a broken heart right now, or know someone who is, this blessing is for you. In the midst of the breaking, may our hearts never cease to open.

A Blessing for the Brokenhearted

There is no remedy for love but to love more.
– Henry David Thoreau

Let us agree
for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.

Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.

Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—

as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it

as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still

as if it trusts
that its own stubborn
and persistent pulse
is the rhythm
of a blessing
we cannot
begin to fathom
but will save us
nonetheless.

– Jan Richardson


P.S.
If you are new to The Painted Prayerbook, I welcome you, and I invite you to read the brief remembrance and blessing I wrote for my husband and partner in ministry, who died at the beginning of Advent, several weeks after experiencing complications during what we had anticipated would be routine surgery. You can find the remembrance and blessing here: Beloved: A Blessing for Garrison Doles.

Also, Gary and I had planned to offer a new online retreat for Lent. You can imagine how it feels to do this without him, but I do not want to miss the opportunity to travel through the season with you. Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, this retreat is a great way to journey toward Easter, from anywhere you are. Click the image below for details and registration. Group and congregational rates are available.

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan L. Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Epiphany: This Brightness That You Bear

January 2, 2014


Image: This Brightness That You Bear © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Epiphany, Years ABC: Matthew 2.1-12

They set out; and there, ahead of them,
went the star that they had seen at its rising,
until it stopped over the place where the child was.
—Matthew 2.9

Many of you know that my amazing husband, Garrison Doles, died unexpectedly at the beginning of Advent, after experiencing complications during what we had anticipated would be a fairly routine surgery in mid-November. (I invite you to read this remembrance and blessing I wrote for Gary, if you haven’t seen it.) I am so grateful for all those who encircled us from near and far while Gary was in the hospital, and who are continuing to encompass our family during this time of stunning heartbreak. Every prayer, every word, every good thought has been such a tremendous gift in this dark season.

Gary and I are astoundingly fortunate in our families, who in these past weeks have held the light for us in ways that I can barely begin to thank them for. But this Christmas, I wanted to make the attempt, to at least try to offer up some words to honor the extraordinary lengths they have gone to in order to walk this journey with us. I wrote a blessing for them; today’s image is for them as well. I gave these to them on Christmas Day.

On Christmas Day I also shared the blessing and artwork with those who joined me in the online Illuminated Advent Retreat, by way of thanks for how they traveled with me through a season that was so different than I had anticipated. For Epiphany, I want to share this with you. For the light you bear in this world: thank you. If you are in a dark season of your own, or know someone who is, may this come as a gift and a prayer that you will receive the light you need.

Blessings and gratitude to you as Epiphany draws near.

This Brightness That You Bear
A Blessing for My Family

This blessing
hardly knows what to say,
speechless as it is
not simply
from grief
but from the gratitude
that has come with it—

the thankfulness that sits
among the sorrow
and can barely begin
to tell you
what it means
not to be alone.

This blessing
knows the distances
you crossed
in person
in prayer
to enter into
days of waiting,
nights of long vigil.

It knows the paths
you traveled
to be here
in the dark.

Even in the shadows
this blessing
sees more than it can say
and has simply
come to show you
the light
that you have given

not to return it
to you
not to reflect it
back to you
but only to ask you
to open your eyes
and see
the grace of it,
the gift that shines
in this brightness
that you bear.


P.S.
I come bearing a few more Epiphany gifts for you…

CELEBRATING WOMEN’S CHRISTMAS
At my Sanctuary of Women site, you can find a brand-new retreat that I’ve designed for Women’s Christmas, which some folks celebrate on Epiphany. To learn more about Women’s Christmas and download the retreat (at no cost), click the image or link below.


Women’s Christmas: The Shimmering Hours


OTHER EPIPHANIES
For previous reflections for Epiphany, including “Blessing of the Magi,” click these images or the titles below.


Epiphany: Blessing of the Magi



Epiphany: Blessing for Those Who Have Far to Travel



Epiphany: Where the Map Begins



Feast of the Epiphany: Blessing the House


AND A FESTIVE DISCOUNT
In celebration of the season, the Advent discount on annual subscriptions to Jan Richardson Images (the website that makes my work available for use in worship) will be available through Epiphany Day (January 6). For info, visit:


Jan Richardson Images

[To use the image "This Brightness That You Bear," please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Beloved: A Blessing for Garrison Doles

December 10, 2013

Best Day Ever

O my dear friends. For those who don’t already know, I need to tell you that my beloved husband slipped peacefully from this world on December 2, enfolded in the love and presence of our family and the encompassing of the God who entrusted him to us. I don’t need to tell you that I am heartbroken beyond imagining. Please know that the prayers you offered for Gary and all of us provided such solace and sustenance during our vigil with Gary, and will continue to do so as our family finds our way through the coming days. Months. Lifetime.

We held a service to celebrate Gary’s life last Friday afternoon. It was heartbreaking and hopeful and wonderfully beautiful. It included much music. Gary’s amazing son, Emile, in whom Gary’s gift of song lives strong, opened the service by singing Gary’s song “Raise This Hour.” Gary’s also-amazing brothers sang, and Gary’s own recordings, including two guitar meditations he created for our Illuminated Advent Retreat, provided the opening and closing music. I can’t tell you enough to do the service justice−how honoring it was of Gary and how much solace it provided for mebut I want to share with you some words I wrote for that day. This is a brief remembrance and a blessing for my remarkable, beloved husband; for those who gathered to remember and grieve and celebrate; and now for you. Our dear friends Peg and Chuck Hoffman, who had so recently shared in our wedding, read these words for me.

Remembering

In the entirety of my life, what I am most proud of is this: that when Gary Doles crossed my path, I recognized him. Every single day, I knew what I had in him. This also means that I know all too keenly, with the precision of a knife’s edge, what I have lost, and all too soon.

I think we have all been carrying the sense of how horribly unfair this is. And it is. In the midst of my devastation and desolation, I have also been remembering some of the stories that Gary would tell me about his life. I won’t tell you the stories just now, but I will tell you that it is a marvel and a miracle that Gary Doles survived long enough for me to meet him. And for that I give thanks. Along with the heartbreak, I will always carry such deep gratitude for the years we had together, and for the extravagant grace of loving and being loved by him. Still.

After Gary died on Monday, surrounded by the prayers and the presence of our remarkable family, I stayed in the room as his nurse removed everything that had helped to keep him alive during the awful and beautiful vigil that we had kept with him for eighteen days. I watched as she removed the ventilator tube that had kept him breathing, watched as she took out the seemingly innumerable lines that had delivered medications. Finally Gary was shed of everything that had kept him living, everything that had tethered him until it became clear that nothing would return him to us. I placed my hand against his chest, and commented to the nurse that it felt so strange to feel a heartbeat, and know that it was only my own pulse. She said, “His heart beats in you now.”

In me. In us. Thank you for being part of the life of my husband whose heart beat with such strength and continues to echo in us still.

Where Your Song Begins Again
A Blessing

Beloved,
I could not bear it
if this blessing ended
with the final beat
of your heart,

if it left
with the last breath
that bore you away
from here.

I could not stand
the silence,
the stillness
where all
had once been song,
had been story,
had been the cadenced liturgy
of your life.

So let it be
that this blessing
will abide
in the pulse
that moves us
from this moment
to the next.

Let it be
that you will breathe
in us here bereft
but beloved still.

Let it be
that you will make your home
in the chamber
of our heart

where your story
does not cease,
where your words
take flesh anew,
where your song
begins again.

Advent and the Unexpected Vigil

November 23, 2013


Image: Heartbeat Liturgy © Jan L. Richardson

Friends, you may have already heard this news through another place or person that connects us, but in case you haven’t, I want to share an update with you and ask for your prayers. My amazing husband, Garrison Doles, is in the midst of a medical crisis that has turned our lives inside out. Last week, Gary went into the hospital to address a brain aneurysm that had been discovered during the summer (in a fluky fashion, in the process of checking out something else that proved not to be a problem). We had hoped he would be able to have a less invasive procedure called coiling, but the aneurysm proved too complex, and he was taken into surgery. During an eleven-hour surgery, Gary had a stroke, and has had two additional surgeries to address brain swelling. He has been in a medically induced coma and will be emerging from that over the course of the coming days.

We don’t yet know the extent of the damage from the stroke. Based on what Gary’s remarkable neurosurgeon is telling us, there is cause for great concern and great hope. I would be tremendously thankful for your prayers and good thoughts for Gary, his wondrous medical team, and our families.

Some kind folks have asked about the online Advent retreat that Gary and I were planning. I’ve decided to still offer it, with the understanding that it will look rather different than we originally planned. I find myself reluctant to give up the chance to walk through the coming season in the company of kindred spirits.

If you’re interested in entering Advent with your eyes wide open—looking honestly and anew at seemingly familiar Advent themes such as mystery, waiting, hope, keeping vigil, and longing for light in the deepest darkness—and if you’re game for a bit of adventure and uncertainty about what it will all look like, then this is the place for you. I’d love to travel in your company.

I’d be grateful if you would let other folks know about the retreat by sharing a link to this post or to the retreat overview page (Illuminated Advent Retreat) via Facebook or anywhere else you’re connected. This would be such a wonderful gesture of support for Gary and me in this time. Most of all, I would be so tremendously thankful for your prayers in these days of keeping vigil and beginning to navigate a road that we never imagined traveling.

I send you much gratitude and many blessings as Advent approaches.



Illuminated Advent Retreat