To Go Home By Another Way

If you could see
the journey whole
you might never
undertake it;
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.

Call it
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
before us,
as it comes into
our keeping
step by

single step.

There are vows
that only you
will know;
the secret promises
for your particular path
and the new ones
you will need to make
when the road
is revealed
by turns
you could not
have foreseen.

Keep them, break them,
make them again:
each promise becomes
part of the path;
each choice creates
the road
that will take you
to the place
where at last
you will kneel

to offer the gift
most needed—
the gift that only you
can give—
before turning to go
home by
another way.
~Jan Richardson from
“Blessing for Those Who Travel Far”

… having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Matthew 2:12

The night sky was still dim and pale.  
There, peeping among the cloud wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, 
Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while.  
The beauty of it smote his heart, 
as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him.  
For like a shaft, clear and cold, 
the thought pierced him that in the end 
the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: 
there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.
~J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

The star represented a hope
too long elusive;
so weary and with so much need
they headed out for unknown lands
to follow a light seemingly
beyond their reach.

When they found its source
they could touch His earthliness.
No shadow cast of darkness,
and no iron nails
could quell the beauty
of its brilliance.

Having been so illumined
they could only return home another way~
No longer could they be
who they had been.

Preparing the Heart: Overcome by Light

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Rather than “we shall overcome”, today is the day we shall be overcome by the Light in the darkness of the world.

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Nativity by N.C. Wyeth

Christmas hath a darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Earth, strike up your music,
Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven hath answering music
For all Angels soon to sing:
Earth, put on your whitest
Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.
~Christina Rossetti “Christmas Eve”

 

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Illustration by Linda Richardson of “Christmas Eve” by Christina Rossetti

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You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Isaiah 55:12

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…the deepest darkness is the place where God comes to us.
In the womb, in the night, in the dreaming;
when we are lost, when our world has come undone,
when we cannot see the next step on the path;
in all the darkness that attends our life,
whether hopeful darkness or horrendous,
God meets us.
God’s first priority is not to do away with the dark but to be present to us in it.
~Jan Richardson

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Awaiting His Arrival: An Advent Series

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It was a time like this,
war & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss –
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was a time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight –
and yet the Prince of bliss came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.
~Madeleine L’Engle “In the Darkest Hour”

 

The Advent Series theme on Barnstorming this year will be “Awaiting His Arrival” ~~ both the anticipated Advent arrival of God on earth as a helpless newborn, and when He comes again someday to this sick and sorry world.

His first arrival was in the midst of great distress between people whose faith was eroding into legalism and gods of their own making, along with interminable conflict between nations fighting over the same land and same issues as continues today.

Into such mean and gloomy darkness came a great Light.   As stated by modern martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  God’s coming to earth is “frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.”

The editors’ introduction to one of my favorite Advent books Watch for the Light includes this thought:
“The love that descended to Bethlehem is not the easy sympathy of an avuncular God, but a burning fire whose light chases away every shadow, floods every corner, and turns midnight into noon.  This love reveals sin and overcomes it.  It conquers darkness with such forcefulness and intensity that it scatters the proud, humbles the mighty, feeds the hungry, and sends the rich away empty-handed (Luke 1:51-53).”

So it is this love in action within our midst to be pondered in this Advent month of reflections — how His love came to change our world and ourselves and how we are meant to respond.  As Jan Richardson writes in Night Vision, “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.  And you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s hindquarters fade in the distance.  So stay.  Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder.”

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace
He came when the Heavens were unsteady
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He died with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
He came, and his Light would not go out.
~Madeleine L’Engle from “First Coming”

Swaddling Shroud

Magi by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Magi by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

…the scent of frankincense
and myrrh
arrives on the wind,
and I long
to breathe deeply,
to divine its trail.
But I know their uses
and cannot bring myself
to breathe deeply enough
to know
whether what comes
is the fragrant welcoming
of birth
or simply covers the stench of death.
These hands
coming toward me,
is it swaddling they carry
or shroud?

And yet you remind us
that the wisdom
of the womb
points toward the truth
of the tomb:
that what contains us
for a moment
or a season
with your touch
will finally give way
to freedom.
~Jan Richardson from Night Visions –searching the shadows of Advent and Christmas

The Christmas season is a wrap, put away for another year.
However, our hearts are not so easily boxed up and stored as the decorations and ornaments of the season.
Our troubles and concerns go on; our frailty a daily reality.
We can be distracted with holidays for a few weeks, but our time here slips away ever more quickly.

The Christmas story is not just about light and birth and joy to the world.
It is about how swaddling clothes became a shroud that wrapped Him tight.
There is not one without the other.
God came to be with us;  delivered so He could deliver.
Born so He could die in our place
To leave the linen strips behind, neatly folded.

Christmas:  the unwrapping that frees us forever.

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Walking Toward the Dawn

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All throughout these months as the shadows have lengthened,
this blessing has been gathering itself,
making ready, preparing for this night.

It has practiced walking in the dark,
traveling with its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me when I tell you this blessing will reach you
even if you have not light enough to read it;
it will find you even though you cannot see it coming.

You will know the moment of its arriving
by your release of the breath you have held so long;
a loosening of the clenching in your hands,
of the clutch around your heart;
a thinning of the darkness that had drawn itself around you.

This blessing does not mean to take the night away
but it knows its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots along the path,
knows what it means to travel
in the company of a friend.

So when this blessing comes, take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road you cannot see.

This is the night when you can trust
that any direction you go,
you will be walking toward the dawn.
~ Jan Richardson from “Through the Advent Door”

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