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We speak of getting lost in a story, but part of what draws us to a story is the promise of finding: finding a different world, finding another time, finding ourselves. When Christ came (in the fullness of time, the story goes), he came as the Word made flesh.
Jesus understood that in a world where it can be so difficult to know God, to know others, to know even ourselves, a story can offer a language, a doorway, a point of entry. Are you hungry for an experience that invites you into Advent without stressing your schedule? For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. For some of us, asking for help—from God, from another person—can be tremendously difficult. As if to confirm God’s penchant for revelation that we reflected on yesterday, Psalm 118 sings of light that comes as a blessing and gift from God. And this is, after all, what the psalmist desires: not to wallow in his sins or berate himself eternally for his brokenness, but to rest in the God who does not abandon him. There’s some thought that Psalm 107 is a pilgrimage song, and that this psalm of joy was lifted up by pilgrims who survived the dangers of travel and made it safely to Jerusalem at festival times.
The author of this psalm remembers what the people of the Exodus—like us—sometimes forgot: that the antidote to grumbling is gratefulness. There is a different kind of knowing that comes in the night, in these hours when the shadows smooth the sharp edges, when things grow quieter.
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In the Song Chapel concerts that he performed across the United States, song and spoken word wove together, inviting us to hear the story of God anew. He understands that we cannot know God without stories; that we cannot know ourselves without them. There is something in us that hungers for a story, an empty space that is shaped precisely to its contours. He knew how a story can take us a little deeper into knowing, a little farther down the road in our journey of return.
It may rarely occur to us that God created other people so that we don’t have to do everything by ourselves. A small, peaked rock of an island off the coast of Ireland, Skellig Michael was home to a small community of monks in the Middle Ages.

How do you seek the refuge, solace, and shelter that God offers you—not as a perpetual escape from the world but as a place of safety where you can receive the strength and sustenance that will enable you to engage the world in the ways God needs you to engage it? Light, the psalmist tells us, is one of the ways that God provides and cares for God’s people. Encompassing Psalms 113-118, the song is sometimes called the Egyptian Hallel and is a joyous telling of what God has done in the life of the people of Israel: how God has provided for them, what God has given to them, what God has brought to pass through them.
To rejoice in the God who knows all the broken pieces and who holds them in mercy and love.
In its entirety, the psalm offers a beautiful narrative arc by which it tells of how God has delivered God’s people from a variety of places of difficulty and despair. It reads also as a marvelous encapsulation and evocation of the way that God has delivered God’s people across the vast expanse of time, providing for us and freeing us from the places where we have been in peril. What arc would you trace in the telling, and what places of healing, freeing, and transformation would you include? Offering thanks to God doesn’t mean ignoring or glossing over the presence of difficulty or suffering around us or within us.
When my parents gave me Leila as my middle name, after a great-grandmother, they didn’t know it was the Hebrew word for night.
I open a book or curl up next to my husband or go into my studio or simply stop and let my breathing slow, knowing that much of what tugs at me during the day will ease its hold in these hours if I will let it. And so prayers become part of the weave of these hours, offered  for those who are met by pain or horror in the dark, and who find there a terrible knowledge. Gary knew how to pare away the layers of familiarity in the stories of our faith—those layers that can lull us into thinking we know what a story is about. The psalmist knows that we cannot be the people of God without telling the story of God, passing the story on to each generation.
We reach for the threads that a story offers, we enter the rooms it opens to us, we inhabit the skin of another and somehow, in the hands of a good story, we are returned to ourselves.
It is about helping you find spaces for reflection that draw you deep into this season that shimmers with mystery and possibility. Yet as the psalmist reminds us, knowing what we need and asking for appropriate help is part of what it means to belong to God—and to one another. I imagine that on that craggy rock where they kept a rhythm of personal and communal prayer throughout the day and night, the monks felt a particular connection with this psalm and its imagery of the rock of refuge that the psalmist finds in God. During the festival of Passover, the first part of the Hallel (Psalms 113 and 114) is sung before the Passover meal, and the second part is sung following the meal (Psalms 115-118).

How do you welcome this joy that is present even in the midst of brokenness, this joy that is part of how God works within us to put the pieces together?
But cultivating a practice of gratitude sharpens our ability to perceive the presence of God in the midst of it. No surprise, then, that I would fall in love with the late hours, becoming an incurable night owl whose favorite part of the day is the dark.
I pray for their protection, for their encompassing by the God who makes a home in the dark as well as in the day.
And we are perhaps holding the threads of our own stories a bit differently, or entering a new space within ourselves, or finding ourselves able to inhabit our own skin more completely. Offering a space of elegant simplicity as you journey toward Christmas, the Illuminated retreat fits easily into the rhythm of your days, anywhere you are. And as the psalmist also reminds us in verse 4, seeking the help of God (which so often comes through others) is a pathway to gladness; drawing near to the God who takes delight in delivering us is a road to rejoicing. Like the desert fathers and mothers of the early church who served as models and sources of inspiration for these monks, the brothers surely must have found that their home on Skellig Michael was not a place of escape from spiritual struggle but a space where they could both wrestle with God and rest in the God who delivered them and provided shelter and strength for their souls. It’s likely that it was the song that Jesus and the disciples sang as they left the Last Supper. Is there some place in your spirit that needs to be more willing, that needs God’s sustenance in order to live into the salvation—the wholeness, the deliverance, the freedom—that God intends for you?
If you’re interested in an art print of your own or to give as a gift, I invite you to visit Jan Richardson Images, where all the images from this series—and many other images—are available as prints.
Thankfulness for what God has done for us—out of nothing but God’s sheer and steadfast love for us—helps dispose us toward recognizing what God is seeking to do even now, and it opens us to participate in what God is working to bring about in our lives and in the world. It’s thought that a monastic community remained on the island until the twelfth or thirteenth century. What hope it must have given them, as they went into the night, to sing of the God who does not let darkness have the final word.

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