Featured Poet: Jan Richardson

Last spring we launched a series with poets whose work we love and want to feature and will continue it moving forward.

Our next poet is Jan Richardson whose recent work is centered on grief, hope, and fierce, enduring love. Read her poetry and discover more about the connections she makes between poetry and the sacred. Listen to her read "Blessing for the Brokenhearted" below.

The Magdalene’s Blessing

You hardly imagined
standing here,
everything you ever loved
suddenly returned to you
looking you in the eye
and calling your name.

And now
you do not know
how to abide this ache
in the center
of your chest
where a door
slams shut
and swings open
at the same time,
turning on the hinge
of your aching
and hopeful heart.

I tell you
this is not a banishment
from the garden.

This is an invitation,
a choice,
a threshold,
a gate.

This is your life
calling to you
from a place
you could never
have dreamed
but now that you
have glimpsed its edge
you cannot imagine
choosing any other way.

So let the tears come
as anointing,
as consecration,
and then
let them go.

Let this blessing
gather itself around you.

Let it give you
what you will need
for this journey.

You will not remember
the words—
they do not matter.

All you need to remember
is how it sounded
when you stood
in the place of death
and heard the living
call your name.

From Circle of Grace

Themes of Her Work

Just a few years after we were married, my husband and creative partner, the singer/songwriter Garrison Doles, died unexpectedly. No surprise, then, that much of my work explores the terrain of grief and loss, those experiences that are heartrending in their universality yet stunning in how specific they are to each one of us. What has struck me most, though, is what shows up amid the intense sorrow. Hope has proven to be wildly stubborn. And love, no matter how inextricably it lives with deepest grief, turns out to be infinitely more enduring, more fierce.

How Joy Works

You could not stop it
if you tried—
how this blessing
begins to sing
every time it sees
your face,
how it turns itself
in wonder
merely at the mention
of your name.

It is simply
how joy works,
going out to you
when you least expect,
running up to meet you
when you had not thought
to ask.

Poetry and the Sacred

Much of my poetry takes the form of blessings. I am fascinated by this ancient literary form that, in the scriptures and elsewhere, has a tangible quality: a blessing is something given, something passed along, often in a time of trouble or pain. A blessing testifies to, and calls upon, God’s presence amid what may appear unendurable. It bears witness to the fact that nothing in our experience lies outside the circle of God’s care.

In English, the word blessing shares the same root as blood. A blessing connects us. It has the power to do what all good poetry does: to help us find our heartbeat again, and be present to the love that, in an entirely unsentimental way, enables us to live.

In the wake of my husband’s death, this has come home to me with particular clarity. Grief brings us into intimate contact with the most elemental forces within us. Poetry—the reading of it, the writing of it—helps us abide and work with those forces. It opens a space where the work becomes possible, becomes imaginable; it gives us tools to engage and name both the pain and the joy that can sometimes seem unspeakable.

God of the Living

“Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living;
for to him all of them are alive.”

—Luke 20.38

When the wall
between the worlds
is too firm,
too close.

When it seems
all solidity
and sharp edges.

When every morning
you wake as if
flattened against it,
its forbidding presence
fairly pressing the breath
from you
all over again.

Then may you be given
a glimpse
of how weak the wall

and how strong what stirs
on the other side,

breathing with you
and blessing you
still,
forever bound to you
but freeing you
into this living,
into this world
so much wider
than you ever knew.

From The Cure for Sorrow

About Jan Richardson

Jan Richardson is an artist, writer, and ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. She serves as director of The Wellspring Studio, LLC, and has traveled widely as a retreat leader and conference speaker. Known for her distinctive intertwining of word and image, Jan’s work has attracted an international audience drawn to the welcoming and imaginative spaces that she creates in her books, blogs, and events. Her books include The Cure for Sorrow, Night Visions, In the Sanctuary of Womenand Circle of Grace. Her new book, Sparrow: A Book of Life and Death and Life, will be released this spring.

A native Floridian several generations over, Jan makes her home in Central Florida. For more about her writing and artwork, visit JanRichardson.com, where you can also find links to order her books.

Dreaming of Stones

Christine Valters Paintner's new collection of poems Dreaming of Stones has been published by Paraclete Press.

The poems in Dreaming of Stones are about what endures: hope and desire, changing seasons, wild places, love, and the wisdom of mystics. Inspired by the poet’s time living in Ireland these readings invite you into deeper ways of seeing the world. They have an incantational quality. Drawing on her commitment as a Benedictine oblate, the poems arise out of a practice of sitting in silence and lectio divina, in which life becomes the holy text.

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