Book Report: Books by Jan Richardson

Jan Richardson is one of my “go-to” writers. Her books of prayers and blessings and reflections sustain and enrich me. Enlighten and open me.

On these Lenten mornings I read and re-read and sit with the blessings for the Lenten season in Circle of Grace, A Book of Blessings for the Season (2015), as I have for many previous Lenten times. This year the book falls open almost automatically to page 117:

Next you must trust
that this blessing knows 
where it is going,
that it understands
the ways of the dark
that it is wise
to seasons
and to times.

As I move through a period of discernment, these words reassure me and lift me and lead me towards whatever is next. Easter is coming--beyond what seems dark. 

Two other books accompany me during the seasons of the church year: In Wisdom's Path, Discovering the Sacred in Every Season (2000) and Night Visions, Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas (1998). 

Both of these books are beautifully illustrated by Richardson as well.

On the first page in the section on Lent in the book In Wisdom’s Path Richardson writes:

The season begins with ashes and invites us into a time of stripping away all that distracts us from recognizing the God who dwells at our core. Reminding us that we are ashes and dust, God beckons us during Lent to consider what is elemental and essential in our lives…we find the building blocks for creating anew.

p. 53.

Each year when I read those words it is as if for the first time, as if I have never considered those thoughts, and at the same time, they feel so familiar and touch what I have always knows. Richardson has that ability in both her writing and her art work. That is also true as she guides the reader through each week of Advent in Night Vision with themes of “Darkness,” “Desire,” “Preparing a Space,” “Hope,” and then on to themes of “Birthing,” “Welcoming,” and “Thresholds” for Christmas and Epiphany. I know that season seems far off as we continue the rounds of Lent, but I suggest you add this book to your devotion plans for later in the year.

Two other books highlight the spiritual journeys of women.

Sacred Journeys, A Woman’s Book of Daily Prayer (1996) also follows the liturgical year, and each week includes an invocation, biblical text, context of the scripture, daily readings, questions for reflection, a meditation, and a blessing. Along with her own words, Richards quotes women from across the ages, a rich diversity of voices. One Lent many years ago a friend and I each read the daily devotions in this book and then emailed our comments to one another–what a meaningful Lenten journey that was.

The other book specifically focuses on women, In the Sanctuary of Women, A Companion for Reflection and Prayer (2010. Each chapter highlights a wise woman of the past, including Eve, Brigid, the Desert Mothers, and Hildegard of Bingen. I knew something about each of those women, but not about Harriet Powers, the subject of a chapter called “The Mysteries of Making.”

Powers grew up in slavery and when she become emancipated, she and her husband purchased a farm in Georgia. She worked as a seamstress and created quilts. Two of her quilts, known as Bible quilts created using appliqué techniques, have survived and speak to her creative gifts and her love of God.

A dear friend gave me this treasured book and inscribed it to me:

May you always keep the vision to recognize the door that is yours, courage to walk through it, and when you’ve gathered the wisdom that is yours in that room, move on and find another door.

I think Richardson would applaud this sentiment.

Finally, two books are the result of deep grief in Richardson’s life: The Cure for Sorrow, A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief (2016) and Sparrow, A Book of Life and Death and Life (2020). Richardson’s husband and creative partner, the singer/songwriter Garrison Doles died unexpectedly after a routine surgery, and she did what she knew how to do: she wrote blessings; blessings not always easy to read, such as “Blessing for My First Day as a Widow.” But she also wrote blessings of solace and hope.

When I was asked to speak at a friend’s memoir gathering, I read the blessing, “Where Your Song Begins Again,” which includes these words:

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.

Sparrow, which explores the first few years after Gary’s death, is written in more of a narrative style and includes journal entries. The title is based on the sparrow imagery in Psalm 84, “Even the sparrow finds a home…” This line inspired one of Gary’s songs, “I Will Be a Sparrow.” The book is the honest, compelling and often raw exploration of the key question in her life without her loved one, “Who am I, when the person who saw and knew me best in all the world is gone from this world?” I am grateful I have not lost that person, but I have had my own losses and with each one I am aware of the need to address anew, “Who am I now?”

How grateful I am for Richardson’s grace and wisdom and her companionship on my own journey.

Richardson’s website is https://www.janrichardson.com/books. You can buy her books and art prints, as well as access her blog and occasional retreats on this site.

An Invitation:

What books accompany you on your spiritual journey? I would love to know.

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