Writing

  • The Year as a House

    Jan Richardson 2 January 2019

    The Year as a House

     

     
    Think of the year
    as a house:

    door flung wide
    in welcome,
    threshold swept
    and waiting,
    a graced spaciousness
    opening and offering itself
    to you.

    Let it be blessed
    in every room.
    Let it be hallowed
    in every corner.
    Let every nook
    be a refuge
    and every object
    set to holy use.

    Let it be here
    that safety will rest.
    Let it be here
    that health will make its home.
    Let it be here
    that peace will show its face.
    Let it be here
    that love will find its way.

    Here
    let the weary come;
    let the aching come;
    let the lost come;
    let the sorrowing come.

    Here
    let them find their rest,
    and let them find their soothing,
    and let them find their place,
    and let them find their delight.

    And may it be
    in this house of a year
    that the seasons will spin in beauty;
    and may it be
    in these turning days
    that time will spiral with joy.
    And may it be
    that its rooms will fill
    with ordinary grace
    and light spill from every window
    to welcome the stranger home.

    ©Jan Richardson
    Image: "Many Rooms" © Jan Richardson
    www.janrichardson.com

  • Saint Francis

    Jan Richardson 4 October 2018

    Saint Francis

    Happy Feast of St. Francis! The hospitality of Franciscans has been a pivotal gift in my life, and I owe them much for helping to preserve my vocation and to sustain me when I made a flying leap into ministry beyond the local church. In particular, it was my Franciscan friend Brother David who helped to inspire that leap and gave me a place to land. I had met him when I was serving as a pastor. Shortly afterward, he established a Center for Art and Contemplation at the retreat center where he worked and where, thanks to the good graces of the Franciscans and not a few other folks, I would become artist-in-residence for some years.

    David and his brothers at San Pedro Center gave flesh to the wonders and challenges of Franciscan life and to the spirit of St. Francis. Born in Italy in the 12th century, Francis gave up the riches of his family in order to embrace a life of radical devotion to God and to God’s creatures. He took as spouse the one whom he called Lady Poverty, and a community began to gather around him; they became known as the friars minor (“lesser brothers”). Their rhythm of life included preaching missions (Francis traveled widely, journeying even to Egypt), periods of fasting and prayer, and service to those who lived on and beyond the margins of the society, notably those living with leprosy. It was during a period of fasting and prayer prior to the Feast of Michaelmas that Francis, secluded on a mountain with Brother Leo, received the stigmata—the wounds of Christ.

    We know St. Francis in large part for The Canticle of the Creatures, which he began during a time of intense illness. Of his desire to write the canticle, he said to his brothers, “I wish to compose a new hymn about the Lord’s creatures, of which we make daily use, without which we cannot live, and with which the human race greatly offends its Creator.” His praises include, famously, “Sir Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon and the stars” as well as “Brother Wind,” “Sister Water,” and “Brother Fire.” He counted mortality among God’s familiar and familial creatures; on his deathbed, Francis added verses that included the line, “Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no one living can escape.”

    Francis left behind a handful of other writings that testify to his deep and simple love of God. With World Communion Sunday coming up this Sunday, it seems fitting to include this portion from A Letter to the Entire Order, which Francis wrote in 1225-1226:

    Let everyone be struck with fear,
    let the whole world tremble,
    and let the heavens exult
    when Christ, the Son of the living God,
    is present on the altar in the hands of a priest!
    O wonderful loftiness and stupendous dignity!
    O sublime humility!
    O humble sublimity!
    The Lord of the universe,
    God and the Son of God,
    so humbles Himself
    that for our salvation
    He hides Himself
    under an ordinary piece of bread!
    Brothers, look at the humility of God,
    and pour out your hearts before Him!
    Humble yourselves
    that you may be exalted by Him!
    Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves,
    that He Who gives Himself totally to you
    may receive you totally!

    And in the Earlier Rule that Francis wrote for his community, he pleaded,

    Therefore,
    let us desire nothing else,
    let us want nothing else,
    let nothing else please us and cause us delight
    except our Creator, Redeemer and Savior,
    the only true God,
    Who is the fullness of good….

    Therefore,
    let nothing hinder us,
    nothing separate us,
    nothing come between us.

    On this day of celebration, and all the days to come, may it be so. Happy Feast!

    ©Jan Richardson
    Image St. Francis, Jan Richardson

     

  • The Temple in His Bones

    Jan Richardson 3 March 2018

    The Temple in His Bones

    Reading from the Gospels
    Lent 3, Year B: John 2: 13 – 22

    On my first afternoon in Rome a few years ago, I climbed on the back of my friend Eric’s motorcycle and set off with him to begin my acquaintance with the Eternal City. A few minutes down the road, he told me to close my eyes. When we came to a stop and I opened them, my field of vision was filled with one of the most impressive sights in a city of impressive sights: the Pantheon. Built in the second century AD, the Pantheon replaced the original Pantheon that Marcus Agrippa constructed fewer than three decades before the birth of Christ. A temple dedicated to “all the gods” (hence its name), the Pantheon became a church in the seventh century when Pope Boniface IV consecrated it as the Church of Santa Maria ad Martyres. It’s said that at the moment of the consecration, all the spirits inhabiting the former temple escaped through the oculus—the hole in the Pantheon’s remarkable dome that leaves it perpetually open to the heavens.

    As churches go, it’s hard to top the Pantheon for its physical beauty and power. It was perhaps risky to see it on my first day, so high did it set the bar for the rest of my trip. Yet Rome, of course, brims with delights for the eyes, and the next two weeks offered plenty of stunning visual fare. Amid the calculated grandeur, I found that it was the details that charmed me: the intricate pattern of a Cosmatesque marble floor, the shimmer of light on a centuries-old mosaic, the inscribed marble fragments that had been unearthed and plastered to the walls. It was staggering to contemplate the countless hours and years that went into the construction of these spaces, or to fathom the vast wells of talent and skill that generations of architects, artisans, and laborers lavished upon them.

    The Roman churches that most linger in my memory are those that possessed a clear congruence between the physical environment and its purpose—those places of worship that were not primarily tourist destinations but true sanctuaries. I felt this congruence keenly, for instance, in the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. The space intrigued me from my first moments in it, on the first evening of my trip. I would return several times, learning along the way that one of the many ways the church serves the surrounding Trastevere neighborhood is as a place of prayer for the Community of Sant’Egidio, a lay movement of people who work for reconciliation, peace, solidarity with the poor, and hospitality to pilgrims.

    On the day that Jesus sweeps into the temple, it’s this kind of congruence that is pressing on his mind. We don’t know precisely what has him so riled up; after all, particularly with Passover drawing near, there are transactions that need to take place in the temple. As Jesus enters, he sees those who are attending to the business involved in the necessary ritual sacrifices, but he seems to feel it has become simply that: a business. Commercial transaction has overtaken divine interaction. Time for a clearing out, a return to congruence between form and function, to the integrity of the purpose for which the temple was created: to serve as a place of meeting between God and God’s people.

    To those who challenge his turning over of the temple, Jesus makes a remarkable claim: that he himself is the temple. “Destroy this temple,” he says to them, “and in three days I will raise it up.” His claim stuns his listeners, who know that the sacred space in which they are standing—the Second Temple, which was in the midst of a massive renovation and expansion started by Herod the Great—has been under construction for forty-six years. John clues us in on the secret that the disciples will later recall: “He was speaking of the temple of his body.”

    This scene underscores a particular concern that John carries throughout his gospel: to present Jesus as one who takes into himself, into his own body and being, the purpose of the temple. Richard B. Hays writes that in making the link between Jesus’ body and the temple, this passage provides “a key for much that follows” in John’s gospel. “Jesus now takes over the Temple’s function,” Hays observes, “as a place of mediation between God and human beings.” Hays goes on to point out how Jesus’ sometimes enigmatic sayings about himself in John’s gospel—for instance, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink” and “I am the light of the world”—are references to religious festivals whose symbolism Jesus takes into himself.

    Perhaps, then, it all comes down to architecture. The decades of work that have gone into the physical place of worship, the skill of the artisans, the labors of the workers; the role of the temple as a locus of sacrifice, of celebration, of identity as a community; the power and beauty of the holy place: Jesus says, I am this. Jesus carries the temple in his bones. Within the space of his own body that will die, that will rise, that he will offer to us, a living liturgy unfolds.

    We will yet see the ways that Jesus uses his body to evoke and provoke, how he will offer his body with all its significations and possibilities as a habitation, a place of meeting, a site of worship. Calling his disciples, at the Last Supper, to abide in him; opening his body on the cross; re-forming his flesh in the resurrection; offering his wounds to Thomas like a portal, a passageway: Jesus presents a body that is radically physical yet also wildly multivalent in its meanings.

    The wonder and the mystery of this gospel lection, and of Jesus’ life, lie not only in how he gives his body as a sacred space but also in how he calls us to be his body in this world. Christ’s deep desire, so evident on that day in the temple, is that we pursue the congruence he embodied in himself: that as his body, as his living temple in the world, we take on the forms that will most clearly welcome and mediate his presence. In our bodies, in our lives, in our communities; by our hospitality, by our witness, by our life of prayer: Christ calls us to be a place of meeting between God and God’s people, a living sanctuary for the healing of the world.

    The season of Lent beckons us to consider, are there things we need to clear out in order to have the congruence to which Christ invites us? Who helps you recognize what you need to let go of in order to be more present to the God who seeks a sanctuary in you? How is it with your body—your own flesh in which Christ dwells, and the community with which you seek to be the body of Christ in the world? What kind of community do you long for—do you have that? What would it take to find or create it?

    In these Lenten days, may we be a place of hospitality to all that is holy. Blessings.

    ©Jan Richardson
    ©Image The Temple in His Bones, Jan Richardson 

    [Richard B. Hays quote from his chapter “The canonical matrix of the gospels” in The Cambridge Companion to the Gospels, ed. Stephen C. Barton.]

  • Blessing for Waiting

    Jan Richardson 8 December 2017

     

    Who wait
    for the night
    to end

    bless them.

    Who wait
    for the night
    to begin

    bless them.

    Who wait
    in the hospital room
    who wait
    in the cell
    who wait
    in prayer

    bless them.

    Who wait
    for news
    who wait
    for the phone call
    who wait
    for a word

    who wait
    for a job
    a house
    a child

    bless them.

    Who wait
    for one who
    will come home

    who wait
    for one who
    will not come home

    bless them.

    Who wait with fear
    who wait with joy
    who wait with peace
    who wait with rage

    who wait for the end
    who wait for the beginning
    who wait alone
    who wait together

    bless them.

    Who wait
    without knowing
    what they wait for
    or why

    bless them.

    Who wait
    when they
    should not wait
    who wait
    when they should be
    in motion
    who wait
    when they need
    to rise
    who wait
    when they need
    to set out

    bless them.

    Who wait
    for the end
    of waiting
    who wait
    for the fullness
    of time
    who wait
    emptied and
    open and
    ready

    who wait
    for you,

    o bless.

    ©Jan Richardson
    Image Practice the Waiting, www.odysseyonline.com

    Blessing for Waiting is published in Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons by Jan Richardson

  • Moments: Some words to accompany you this Advent

    Jan Richardson 5 December 2019

    Moments: Some words to accompany you this Advent

     

    The season of Advent
    means there’s something on the horizon
    the like of which we have never seen before.
    It is not possible to keep it from coming,
    because it will.
    That’s just how Advent works.
    What is possible is to not see it, to miss it,
    to turn just as it brushes past you...

    So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry.
    Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder.
    There will be time enough for running.
    For rushing. For worrying. For pushing.
    For now, stay.
    Wait.
    Something is on the horizon.

    ©Jan L. Richardson
    in Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas