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Circle of Grace

Circle of Grace
by Jan Richardson
Orlando, FL: Gospeller Press, 2015
180 pages
Reviewed by Linda Douty

Jan Richardson’s provocative comments in her introduction help to pave the way for the pages that follow. From the outset, she challenges our customary notions about the nature of blessing by stating her own fascination with the concept: “I found myself enchanted and compelled by the power of a blessing: how, in the space of a few lines, the stuff of pain, grief, and death becomes the very substance of hope. I wanted not only to know more about that place; I wanted to live there”(xiii, xiv).

In our culture, we tend to associate blessings with whatever seems to produce a smile, a clear sense of reward that brings joy and satisfaction. Richardson demystifies and deconstructs that assumption: “We often talk about blessings … as though they are a reward or a sign of special status, a measure of God’s providence toward us. While it is tempting to correlate such gifts with the favor of God, this notion holds an insidious corollary: that those who are not prosperous, those who are sick, those whom misfortune has visited—these have not received the blessing of God”(xv, xvi).

On the contrary, authentic blessing often comes to us when we feel least connected to divine favor, maybe even abandoned. When we ask for blessing, we are essentially opening our hearts to whatever God offers, even when life deals us a hand we didn’t want or expect. True blessing invites us to participate in God’s redemptive work of transformation and hope. For example: From “A Blessings for Traveling in the The Dark”: “That in the darkness/there will be a blessing. That in the shadows/there will be a welcome. That in the night/you will be encompassed/by the Love that knows/your name” (31).

The poems are grouped around the seasons of the year in the Christian liturgical calendar, beginning with Advent and Christmas and ending with Ordinary Time. Appropriate scripture references are scattered throughout. As is usual with good poetry, the economy of words extends the meaning of the blessings far beyond their brief boundaries.

If I had to choose a favorite (a difficult task), it would be this offering during the season of Advent, entitled “A Blessing For After”: “This blessing/is what follows/ after illumination departs/and you realize/there is no map/for the path/you have chosen,/no one to serve/as guide,/nothing to do/but gather up/your gumption/and set out./It carries no source/of light/within itself. But in its pocket/is tucked a mirror/that, from time to time/it will hold up to you/to remind you/of the radiance/that came/when you gave/your awful and wondrous/YES “(51,52).

Even the poem titles seem to lure the reader into their magic: “Blessing the Dust”, “Blessing of Mud”, “This Grace That Scorches”, just to mention a few. For spiritual directees with poetic imaginations, these blessings could spark inspiration, as well as internal and external dialogue. Using them as talking points during spiritual direction sessions could be a rich resource for discovering deeper connections to God throughout the liturgical year.

Frankly, this book reorganized my sense of what blessing is and can be. Like Richardson, I too want to live in blessing.

Linda Douty is a spiritual director and retreat leader living in Memphis, Tennessee, USA. She is the author of several books including, Rhythms of Growth: 365 Meditations to Nurture the Soul, Praying in the Messiness of Life: 7 Ways to Renew Your Relationship with God and How Did I Get to Be 70 When I’m 35 Inside?: Spiritual Surprises of Later Life.

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