Easter Blessings! (a love note from your online Abbess)

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

Joyous blessings on this celebration of Easter and the season of resurrection stretching out before us!

I am in the midst of some travels in the U.S. for about a month which began with a lovely visit to my sister-in-law in South Carolina, and now I am heading to Santa Fe to meet up with a dear friend for a couple of days before the Spiritual Directors International conference begins. Then it will be on to Tulsa, OK for the Awakening the Creative Spirit intensive and Lafayette, LA for a private women's group.

If you didn't receive the free gift, What is Blossoming Within You? from last week – here it is! This is a reflective art journal I published a few years ago in print form, but am now sharing digitally as my gift to you, dear monks.

Since I am traveling, I offer you a slightly edited reprise of an article I wrote on springtime a couple of years ago for Patheos:

Spring and all its flowers now
joyously break their vow of silence.
It is time for
celebration, not for
lying low.


I believe deeply that the seasons have a great deal of spiritual wisdom to offer us if we make space to listen. They teach us of the cycles and seasons of the earth and of our own lives. We are invited into the movements of blossoming, fullness, letting go, and rest, over and over again. Just like the lunar cycles of the moon's waxing and waning, so too does the body of the earth call us into this healing rhythm. The call of the monk in the world is to tend this rhythm ourselves, as part of the way our souls might flourish.

Spring is a time of balance, renewal, and welcoming new life into the world. As the northern hemisphere enters the season of blossoming we are called to tend the places of our lives that still long for winter's stillness as well as those places ready to burst forth into the world in a profusion of color. It takes time to see and listen. Around us the world is exploding in a celebration of new life, and we may miss much of it in our seriousness to get the important things of life done.

In the southern hemisphere, the world is moving toward harvest and release. But perhaps there is a blossoming still happening deep in the soul?

Lynn Ungar has a wonderful poem titled "Camas Lilies" in which she writes: "And you — what of your rushed and / useful life? Imagine setting it all down — / papers, plans, appointments, everything, / leaving only a note: "Gone to the fields / to be lovely. Be back when I'm through / with blooming." Spring is a time to set aside some of the plans and open ourselves to our own blooming.

There is a playfulness and spontaneity to the season of spring that invites us to join this joyful abandon. As Hafiz writes, spring is a time for singing forth and celebration. We are called to both listen deeply to the blossoming within ourselves as well as to forget ourselves — setting aside all of our seriousness about what we are called to do and simply enter the space of being. In this field of possibility we discover new gifts.

On my daily walks I have seen clusters of crocuses thrusting themselves out from the ground into the brilliant sunlight. The branches of cherry trees begin to hum, then burst forth. Small shoots are ready to press outward, anticipating their explosion into a pink spectacle of petals. And in my presence to this dynamic energy I discover places within me humming and bursting forth. I notice my own deep longings wanting to emerge in vibrant ways.

The fertility of spring speaks of an abundantly creative God who is at the source of the potent life force beating at the heart of the world. Created in God's image, we are called to participate in this generous creativity ourselves. Our own blossoming leads us to share our gifts in service to others.

In the Hebrew scriptures the promise of God's abundance is often conceived of as blossoming in the desert. In that harsh landscape, a flower bursting forth from the dry land is a symbol of divine generosity, fruitfulness, and hope. Hope is a stance of radical openness to the God of newness and possibility. When we hope, we acknowledge that God has an imagination far more expansive than we do.


Take time this week to meditate with gratitude on a flower, appreciating all of its qualities of beauty, how it simply is what it was created to be. Allow yourself to fill with joyful gratitude for the gifts of the earth. Open yourself to experience the fullness of this flower and all of the ways God delights in the beauty of blossoms.

Then shift your focus from the flower to yourself. Take this sense of wonder and awe at the beauty of the flower and imagine how God gazes with delight on the beauty of who you are. What aspects of your being can you imagine God relishing? What are the longings inside of you God is asking you to embrace?

Rest in this awareness of the joy and delight of God in your own beautiful blossoming for several minutes. Notice what new longings it stirs in you.

Join us for a new Invitation to Poetry on the theme of "Arise and bloom", another new and fabulous Monk in the World guest post by fellow monk in the world Cyndi Gallo Callan, and an update from another one of our amazing Earth Monastery Project grant recipients creating a community garden for youth affected by incarceration (plus grant applications are currently being accepted).

We also have two new online programs for summer! Join us for our brand new Novena of Resurrection: Earth as Our First Monastery (May 31-June 8 culminating on the feast of Pentecost) and Exile and Coming Home: An Archetypal Journey through Scripture (June 16-July 27). If you register for them both by May 12th, you also get a free self-study retreat as a bonus (click here to see your choices).
With great and growing love,


Invitation to Poetry: Arise and Bloom


Welcome to Poetry Party #77!

button-poetryI select an image (the photo above is my own of a peony) and suggest a theme/title and invite you to respond with your own poem. Scroll down and add it in the comments section below or join our Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group and post there.

Feel free to take your poem in any direction and then post the image and invitation on your blog (if you have one), Facebook, or Twitter, and encourage others to come join the party!  (If you repost the photo, please make sure to include the credit link below it and link back to this post inviting others to join us).

We began this month with a  Community Lectio Divina practice with wisdom from the prophet Joel and followed up with our Photo Party on the same theme. (You are most welcome to still participate).  We continue this theme in our Poetry Party this month.

The text with which we are praying this month is from the Hebrew wisdom book the Song of Songs, which the ancient rabbis called "the holy of holies." "Arise and bloom" is our theme, tending to the ways our hearts and souls are breaking forth into blossom after a season of fallowness and stillness.

You can post your poem either in the comment section below*or you can join our Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group (with more than 1400 members!) and post there.

*Note: If this is your first time posting, or includes a link, your comment will need to be moderated before it appears. This is to prevent spam and should be approved within 24 hours.

Monk in the World guest post: Cyndi Gallo Callan

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Cyndi Gallo Callan's wisdom about what matters most:

Prior to Thanksgiving I began thinking about Advent and how I would embrace the season; it always passes so quickly.  Instead of how I thought Advent would be embraced, I found myself reflecting on the theme living as a monk in the world, what it meant in my life, and for those around me.  The reflections moved through me like tidal currents. It was obvious that the Holy Spirit settled within me, as my mind continually had an overflow of memories and thoughts, but with no clear conclusion as to where to start or how to share it. These reflections came at random times, while in church, at work, or on my yoga mat.

It was 24 years ago, after the birth of my daughter, when I started to grow in my faith.  I started to think that if I was intentional and mindful I would eventually get where I was going. So with a lot of life and spiritual growth in-between, I accepted the call to be a Lay Director for a Koinonia weekend retreat in 2011.  I was excited and on fire, but when it was over, I felt a letdown instead of the growth I expected.  Then a desert came.  Needless to say I was devastated.  So groping, I had no choice but to reevaluate my faith life, where I was, and where I was going.  Obviously I wasn't the one in charge (a spiritual director I had once used to always remind me of that pretty regularly).  Am I there yet?  Certainly not!

Truthfully, I needed to find contentment with my life; not an easy task for me.  Even when life is good, I tend to become overwhelmed very easily.  How could I live contently, and embrace contemplative living, when life was a run-on-sentence?  As Joan Chittister wrote in her book Illuminated Life, it is very possible to achieve “being contemplative in the midst of chaos.”

First-off, eliminating the unnecessary clutter in my life (both internally as well as externally) was a start, and then embracing the important aspects of life the next step.  What was most important was realizing that I couldn't do this alone.  God’s grace was there, but I needed to let go, let God.

Refining my life meant an overall overhaul of my mind, body and spirit.  Emptying myself and starting from the beginning, was my first step. While for years I claimed to be “health conscious”, I refocused and fine-tuned nutrition, holistic and simple living, consistent exercise which included yoga (which is now a daily practice) and reading books that promoted growth to help balance my mind, body and spirit. Combining this with faith, intention, and mindfulness, I started seeing my interior life of prayer and contemplation, as well as my physical well-being reshape, and reshape some more.  Am I there yet?  No, not yet.

While there are several areas in my life where I can aspire to living as a monk in the world (or the beginnings of), one area specifically is that of a pro-active mom (and guardian) for my adult son.  Jason, 32, is developmentally disabled with cerebral palsy.  He was 3 months old when his life tragically was changed.  While his cognitive and motor skills are impaired, and the years have not been without their challenges of varying degrees (for both of us), my son has grown into an active, compassionate and social young man.

Almost eleven years ago, six months after his 21st birthday, we decided it would be beneficial to his growth for him to live in a group home.  There were also difficulties on the home front during those years and finding a group home which was in his best interest would be a challenge, but by divine intercession, one found us.  We visited and immediately knew it was right, but it was almost two hours away.  After Easter 2003 he moved.  While initially the positives outweighed the negatives, there were challenges to be overcome after the first few years; some serious.  In 2010, stress-filled, with new changes forthcoming in my life, I needed to take the “bull by the horn” and be more of an advocate then I had been.  With the help of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, my life started to transform with one of my purposes in life becoming more apparent:  my son.

Due to demographics mostly, I did not visit or have Jason home as often as he would like.  I would remind him that I didn't see my parents (his grandparents) but once a year (they are 16 hours away), or his brother and sister, who are away at college, as often either. As I continued to empty myself of the unnecessary clutter, there was room for what matters the most.

Cyndi Gallo Callan 1This past summer I started going down for visits more frequently than in years passed.  On Friday evenings the Activities Department where he lives holds either dances or karaoke. Jason loves them both and asked if I would come down and take him to the dances.  We agreed on once a month (weather permitting). This time has become important to him (along with other “special” things we do).  However, what I also found was that going to these dances not only is a highlight for my son, but it also brightened the lives of the other residents as well.

For me, living as a monk in the world can be realized by living in the present moment, focusing on continued growth of the body-mind-spirit, and being Christ in the world for others in a way consistent with simple living; a content and graceful lifestyle.  When we get caught up in the busyness and stuff of the world we can lose our creativity and sense of purpose.  In this way I honor not only my life, but also the people I interact with daily, as well as those whose paths I have yet to cross.

Cyndi Gallo CallanFrom several east coast “hometowns,” I’ve lived in central Illinois since 1990.  I have three adult children.  I am the secretary for the Director and Associate Director for Catechesis in my diocese. My interests include cooking, dance, photography, and yoga.  I am thankful for my husband who journeys with me.  http://cynthiagallocallan.blogspot.ie/

Click here to read all the guest posts in the Monk in the World series>>

Earth Monastery Project Update:
Youth Chaplaincy Coalition Garden Box Project

garden project

Photo: Rev. Dr. Monica Corsaro of Rainier Beach UMC and Rev. Terri Stewart – clearing weeds!

garden project 2The Earth Monastery Project is a partnership between the Abbey and carefully selected applicants, who will receive resources to complete a Project which nourish an earth-cherishing consciousness and cultivate a vision of the earth as our primary monastery. The EMP is a small grant project funded by donations, income from Amazon Associates program, and through a percentage of fees from Abbey online courses.

Rev. Terri Stewart is one of our grant recipients for her project Youth Chaplaincy Coalition: Garden Box Project.

The Abbey Wisdom Council was drawn to Terri's proposal because her project develops a gardening / mentoring program, pairing dedicated mentors with youth affected by incarceration. Not only will the youth have a long-term mentoring relationship, they will have the opportunity for consistent work in the gardening boxes which will also provide food for food-at-risk families.

garden project 3The location of the project is in the South Seattle area, in zip code 98118, the most diverse zip code in the US and the most impoverished zip code in Seattle.

Our grantees from the fall cycle are midway through their projects and so offer their reports which we are excited to share an excerpt from what Terri shared with us.

Photos Right: Above is Fao planting seeds (of hope!) | Below is Sr. Velena Bryant teaching Jonathan how to use his hand to measure the distance to plant seeds.

Youth Chaplaincy Coalition: Garden Box Project by Terri Stewart

In January of 2013, a dream was born to create a ministry that would help youth affected by incarceration by offering mature mentors, gardening, and youth who have been touched by incarceration, gang violence, or substance abuse. We know that mentorship, relationship building, transforms lives—all the social science literature tells us that! What we also know is that a relationship with the earth through gardening prevents recidivism. Social science literature supports that also! We also know one last piece of the pie—nearly every youth in the 98118 zip code has been touched by incarceration, gang violence, or substance abuse.  Demographics tells us that. It seemed that targeting Rainier Beach UMC, deep in the heart of the 98118, would be a perfect place to plant a new ministry.

Why is gardening important? It provides concrete bound youth with an opportunity to experience the rhythm of God’s creation and to be exposed to the natural cycle of life rather than the harsh reality of life controlled by timers and bars.

Why is mentoring important? It allows youth to develop a relationship with a mature adult who has walked similar paths of incarceration, violence, or substance abuse and who has risen above and out of their original circumstances.

So we gathered on a cold and wet day, the few brave souls coming to support at-risk youth and earth justice and we planted watermelon, cantaloupe, and corn-on-the-cob. This is just the beginning! The youth will be able to take the items they grow and donate it to food marginalized families or they may choose to eat it! Or, they may choose to sell it—showing them an alternative way of having economic justice.

Earth justice – social justice – food justice – and economic justice. Those are some juicy ministry goals! And they all intersect at RBUMC at the corner of 55th and Roxbury in Seattle.

Applications for our next round of Earth Monastery Project grants are now being accepted through April 3oth! We welcome your proposal! Please see this link for details and feel free to email us with any questions.

Would you consider making a donation to this work and support future projects which nourish an earth-cherishing consciousness? (Go to the bottom of this page for the payment link – credit cards accepted)

What is Blossoming Within You? (a love offering from the Abbey)

Blossoming Zine

Dearest monks and pilgrims,

I am getting ready to travel for the next month in the U.S. and there are lots of details to tend to, so this week instead of a love note, I am bringing you a love offering.

Several years ago I self-published a series of small reflective art journals on different themes which included my own photography and art with reflections to ponder. I really loved making them and sending them out into the world.

Every so often, I get an email from someone who has found a copy and wants to order more because they love them so much, but sadly when we moved overseas, we didn't bring them with us. I am so grateful to each and every person who bought one of the physical copies.

I was looking in my archives the other day and realized that it is unlikely I will publish these in physical form again, so for now I am offering What is Blossoming Within You? as a free digital gift and love offering to you! Just download the PDF file and enjoy! Even if it isn't springtime where you live, perhaps there will be a blossoming in your soul sparked by your time of reflection.

These journals were created with much love and the hope that they would invite a time of slowing down and moving inward. They are perfect companions for times of retreat.

Please feel free to share the link to this post with others!

There are other reflective art journals in the series including:

  • Callings: Becoming Who You Already Are
  • Crossing the Threshold: New Year, New Beginnings
  • Illuminating Mystery: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice
  • and perhaps my favorite one of all - Season by the Sea: A Contemporary Book of Hours

Over the next several months, I will be offering these as free gifts in PDF format for you to savor and guide your reflection. Stay tuned for more love offerings to come. . .



As we enter this Holy Week in the Christian tradition, I send blessings for staying with the difficult things of this world. For me, this week ahead is an invitation to be present to grief and unknowing, as well as the joy and celebration to come.

Join us for a new Invitation to Photography on the theme of "Arise and bloom", another new and fabulous Monk in the World guest post by fellow monk in the world Morgana Morgaine, and an update from one of our Earth Monastery Project grant recipients creating a global dance video (plus grant applications are currently being accepted). We also have a wonderful post from herbalist Tonja Reichley on The Monk's Garden.

We also have two new online programs for summer! Join us for our brand new Novena of Resurrection: Earth as Our First Monastery (May 31-June 8 culminating on the feast of Pentecost) and Exile and Coming Home: An Archetypal Journey through Scripture (June 16-July 27). If you register for them both by May 12th, you also get a free self-study retreat as a bonus (click the links to see the options).

With great and growing love,



Photo: Cover of What is Blossoming Within You?

Summer Online Programs (and another free gift!)

We have two brand new programs coming in June!

The first is an online Novena of Resurrection – which is a 9-day prayer experience – we are celebrating resurrection and the earth as our first monastery. The retreat will culminate in the feast of Pentecost (and the arrival of the wild Spirit)! A beautiful way to honor the season of Easter or celebrate springtime. Several years ago, when I worked for the Ignatian Spirituality Center, I coordinated the annual Novena experience which was held during Lent. It ended up being one of my favorite parts of the work I did there and I am excited to bring you the power of this prayer form online.

The second is an online course offered previously to just the men of the Abbey community. John Valters Paintner has done some extensive editing and we have added the marvelous voice of Ronna Detrick, and are now making it available to the entire Abbey. (If you participated in the winter version and want to repeat the class for free please email Christine and let her know).

Novena of Resurrection: Earth as Our First Monastery (May 31-Jun 8, 2014)


Exile and Coming Home: An Archetypal Journey through Scripture (June 16-July 27, 2014)

Register for both programs by May 12th and receive another free gift - a self-study class from the following options (after making payment for the two programs above, email Christine to let her know which self-study class you would like):

Invitation to Photography: Arise and bloom

Welcome to this month's Abbey Photo Party!

button-photographyI select a theme and invite you to respond with images.

We began this month with a Community Lectio Divina practice with words from the ancient Hebrew text of the Song of Songs. While the northern hemisphere begins to turn to spring through the arrival of birdsong and blossoms, we are all invited to tend to our inner flowering. In my own prayer with the text, the word "arise" shimmered strongly, which is an invitation to awaken from slumber, to take action in the world, to bring more beauty to life.

I invite you for this month's Photo Party to hold these words in your heart as you go out in the world to receive images in response. As you walk be ready to see what is revealed to you as a visual expression of your prayer.

You can share images you already have which illuminate the theme, but I encourage you also to go for a walk with the theme in mind and see what you discover.

You are also welcome to post photos of any other art you create inspired by the theme.  See what stirs your imagination!

How to participate:

You can post your photo either in the comment section below* (there is now an option to upload a file with your comment – your file size must be smaller than 1MB – you can resize your image for free here - choose the "small size" option and a maximum width of 500).

You can also join our Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group and post there. Feel free to share a few words about the process of receiving this image and how it speaks of the "Arise and bloom" for you.

*Note: If this is your first time posting, or includes a link, your comment will need to be moderated before it appears. This is to prevent spam and should be approved within 24 hours

Introducing the Monk's Garden by Tonja Reichley

When John and I first moved to Ireland in January 2013, we landed first in the village of Kinvara, about a half hour from Galway City on the other side of the bay. We ended up having to move again within a month's time because we couldn't get internet to the cottage we were renting, but I am deeply grateful for that window of time passing through because it means I got to meet, and become friends with Tonja Reichley. Tonja lives part-time in Kinvara and the rest of the time back in Denver, Colorado where she runs an herbal boutique and handcrafts her amazing potions. Tonja is a monk at heart and wanted to learn more about the monastic tradition, and I was longing to learn more about herbs, and so a wonderful friendship was born. She is a beautiful soul.

Tonja has started a brand new series at her blog called The Monk's Garden, bridging the monastic and herbal traditions. The ancient monks were the keepers of medicine in their time and monasteries would have been places of both physical and spiritual healing. I am delighted Tonja has agreed to let me cross-post her reflections here to share with the Abbey community.

Introducing the Monk’s Garden by Tonja Reichley:

As an herbalist, a ritualist and a monk, I am blessed to walk through my days with a sensual link to my ancestral spiritual tradition.  The monks in Ireland worked daily with herbs to nourish and heal and with oils to anoint and bless.  The textures and scents and tastes that I experience every day through the herbs are ones that have changed little in the hundreds and even thousands of years of herbal medicine.    The healing remedies and anointing oils that I create are ones that Hildegard of Bingen and Brighid of Kildare may have given to their patients and parishes and communities.

In my work with the herbs and through my senses, I embody ancient practices and rhythms that are grounded in the glory of Nature.  The senses are sacred thresholds and it is through my senses that I connect with the wisdom of the monks, that I hear the song of the Divine, that I see with the eyes of my heart the beauty of God’s greening Earth.

For years I have been intrigued with the ancient practice of The Hours and am delighted to invite you into my Monk’s Garden.  Here, together, we will delve into a practice of The Hours deepened and eased with the use of herbs and by actively engaging our senses, which are, like The Hours, thresholds to the Divine.   In addition, we will learn about the healing of herbs, ways to use them and seasonal celebrations to honor the Earth and Nature and our own selves.

Week 1, every month, in the Monk’s Garden will explore one of The Hours and recommend herbs, essential oils, words and simple rituals to incorporate into celebrating that time.

Week 2 in the Garden will be a study of an herb (Monograph) that the monk’s would have grown and offer ways that you can work with that herb for physical as well as spiritual well-being and transformation.

Week 3 in the Monk’s Garden is Herbcraft and we will create an herbal medicine, elixir or potion that the monk’s may have created to serve their infirmary or their spiritual community.  And that you may create to serve your own self and community.

Week 4 in the Monk’s Garden is Celebration.  We will celebrate the wheel of year: a seasonal rite, feast day, cross quarter day, solstice or equinox incorporating herbs and sacred art.  Rituals, meditations and herbs will be woven into each of these celebrations.

Welcome to my garden, my Monk’s Garden.  May we sow lush vibrant seeds of Spirit together.

Herbal Book of Hours: Lauds

It is the threshold of a new day and you feel the stirring of its awakening with you, even as you are lightly veiled in sleep.   Monks have this knowing with us, this primeval memory aching to practice a tradition pre-dating even Christianity, to rise and greet the coming of the light, to awaken and give reverence to the rising of the sun.  My Druid ancestors would have done this on hilltops in Ireland, the goddess Brighid’s priestesses would have risen to greet the dawn in ritual under a mighty oak and Hildegard’s nuns in Germany would have gathered in their cloister to sing the Lauds, the coming of the light.

Lauds is one of the sacred Hours of the day, honored and practiced at dawn.

On the wheel of the directions, Lauds would fall in the north-east, which is not far from where the sun rises, especially in the winter months in the northern hemisphere.  This direction honors the Element of Air.  Lauds is about breathing in the breath of the new day and sharing your own breath of reverence and gratitude to honor its mystery and unfolding.  Lauds is for INSPIRATION.

To celebrate Lauds, join in the voices of the ages, of monks and Druids, of wise women and men, of solitary hermits and crones by the fire, by chanting “Awen, Amen, Awen”, bridging pre-Christian and Christian sacred words.  Awen is a Gaelic word with no direct English translation although loosely means whole, soul truth and bliss.  Amen is a sacred word used to end or affirm prayers in the Christian tradition.  Bringing these two words together is a bridging.  Bringing these two words together can instill a sense of wholeness of being, honoring all of our ancestral traditions.

To celebrate Lauds, create an incense of vervain, lavender and frankincence.  Vervain is a plant representing the Element of Air with its phallic-like tops and wispy leaves.  It is a herb sacred to the Celtic people and I found it growing wild in a garden labyrinth at Chartes Cathedral in France, a place that brings together Druidic and Christian traditions.  Vervain is an herb of the warrior and inspires action.

Lavender also honors the Element of Air in her physical presence and also through the invitation she calls us in to breathe deeper to calm and soothe our spirits.

Frankincense has been a holy herb since pre-Christian times.  Its creamy white resin, when burned, engages the sacred and invites us to be there.

Blend these three herbs, perhaps briefly stirring them in your mortar and pestle as the monks may have done and  then burn them on a charcoal as you recite a blessing from your heart or a psalm or the following from my Herbal Book of Hours:

An ethereal,  luminescent veil spreads over the Earth,
Sweeping through the threshold: night!
Lover who held my soul in shadow
Acquiesces  to the primeval turn: light!
Seep into this place
Awaken me
Quicken me
Behold me as I behold you.
Blessed be.  Amen.

May your day be as blessed as the beginning moments of celebration.

See you next week, in the Monk’s Garden, where we will meet an herb that was cultivated in monastic gardens for centuries because of its importance in health and medicine and now is considered a bane in many gardens (although not in mine!).

Tonja Reichley 2Herbalist (BS, MBA) Tonja Reichley spends her time in the urban alleyways of Denver and on the windswept coast of western Ireland foraging for wild herbs to nourish, heal and revitalize the whole self.   She loves the power and connection of ritual and ancient Celtic monastic traditions.  She created MoonDance Botanicals, a herbal boutique where all products are handcrafted by a collaborative herbal community and is the author of The Way of Brighid Oracle Cards, a 33-card deck dedicated to Irish goddess and saint, Brighid offering reflections, meditations and affirmations.

If you are interested in learning more about Tonja's Herbal Book of Hours, consider taking an online course she will be offering in August 2014:  Herbal Book of Hours:  Honoring Ancient Monastic Traditions Using Herbs, Words and Sacred Art.



Monk in the World guest post: Morgana Morgaine

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Morgana Morgaine's wisdom on becoming a Holy Fool:

A Monk in the World, Holy Fool in Training!

I most closely identify with and revere the monk as Holy Fool.  Holy Fool is a bit of a maverick, well, more than a little! She/he is most likely to be irreverently reverent, using laughter as a way to delight in everyday experience.

St. Francis of Assisi who is credited with saying:  “I hung upside down so that I could see the world as it really is” seems an excellent Holy Fool to me and someone I cherish for his fearless irreverence and desire to shake up that which needed shaking. The metaphor of hanging upside down or riding the horse backwards (in the Native traditions) is a notion of reality that has taught me to see the ordinary through non-ordinary eyes.

The life of a contemporary monk is paradoxically all about freedom, living in the world, but abiding elsewhere. I need that freedom and since Holy Fool energy thrives on unpredictability and surprise, it is an antidote to worldly “shoulds” and convention in which I have been so well trained.  HF helps me to look “beyond” for the “wonder of things” and its inherent magic.

So, I live the Holy Fool as a deeply spiritual aspect of my life.

I consider the language of god energy to be laughter; words seeming less spacious, less simple, and so open to interpretation.  Laughter cuts right through the hazy bits of being human creating shared feelings of pure delight within us and among us.

Its magic lies in shattering distress, pain, and worry through frequent eruptions of humor, bellyhoots, and pure glee! My “inner monk” uses laughter like a physician uses sound waves to shatter a kidney stone. Some wise soul called it a way of releasing the dark side of moments that otherwise might overwhelm and hang us up indefinitely.

Theresa of Avila, not quite a holy fool but a lover of play and laughter, said to her nuns: “god is your business and your language; whomever wants to speak to you must learn this language.” I took that to heart knowing that the business of living (for me) is to cultivate a lightness of being and that requires a language that matches the task! So I look for saints, holy beings, everyday folk who help me find the upside down surprises and the holy awe in what comes my way.

Here are two contemplative practices that shift my “seeing”, my point of view, my perception, keeping me closer to god’s business, if you will. I can describe them best through story.

A friend recently invited a rescue dog named Karl into her life.  Karl is old, slack-jawed, hang-eared and spends most of his day looking for a place to flop. I see him as a reincarnation of Jackie Gleason, actually:  not too smart, a buffoon, really, and therefore incredibly loveable.  When I met Karl, I remembered a poem I had read:

“When a dog runs up to you

Wagging its ecstatic tail,

You lean down and whisper in its ear,

Beloved (god),

I am so glad You are happy to see me.

Beloved (god),

I am so glad,

So very glad You have come.”

 I practice this way of seeing, as often as I remember, by whispering to myself: “Ahhhh, god!” in the presence of the unexpected.  So, now, when I see an eagle fly overhead or when a person gifted with silliness or annoyances crosses my path, or when I am transported by music or when nature expresses something outstanding, yet again, I say to myself: “Ahhh, god, here you are. I am so very glad you have come!”

And the second practice?

Well, it is well known among Holy Fools that bubbles are the way that prayers actually release and uplift the good bits of our contemplative musings. So, I keep an armory of bubble wands and high quality bubbles at hand.  I go down to the waters, be it a lake or an ocean, and I hurl giant bubbles into the air filled with my frustrations, worries, joys, gratitudes and successes. Sometimes the soft wind carries them right up into the heavens and other times, they land on the waters and dance for a time before disappearing.

All in all, it is a Holy Fool moment, a lightness of being.

Bubbles for prayers.

It helps me to live “my monk in the world” as a continuous intention, a continuous practice to awaken and see the holy always lurking just behind the curtain of ordinary sight, (reminiscent of the holy fools (tin man, scarecrow, lion and Dorothy) of OZ when they discovered the truth of things behind the wizard’s curtain: “we have it all in every moment!” St. Francis would laugh.

We might laugh also at the passion of St. Francis being so overcome with fervor for the holy that he stripped himself, literally and figuratively, taking up the call “to see differently”. I imagine him continuing to express this quirkiness of the holy fool throughout his life, dumping perfection for an imperfect and messy holiness.

I love messy holiness. I love gaffs and bumbly moments when we humans are trying so hard to be something other than who we are.  I’ve been there and done that and I often get caught there again; a victim to god’s humor and tomfoolery!… but, then a silly dog shows up with a face like a tire tread and looks at me lovingly and my inner monk says;  “ah god…..here you are….. I am so glad you are happy to see me.”

“Likewise, I’m sure!”

Morgana MorgaineMorgana Morgaine is a life coach to women, helping “light the light” by exploring the “mystic within”.  Morgana facilitates workshops on laughter and play as well as “the making of a borderless broad”.  She is author of Borderless Broads, New Adventures for the Midlife (and beyond) Woman.

Click here to read all the guest posts in the Monk in the World series>>

Earth Monastery Project Update:
Dance Alchemy

Dance Alchemy 1

Photo above: Dance Alchemists on the pier at the Frederick Douglass–Isaac Myers Maritime Museum, Baltimore. Photo top right: Alchemists peace sign. Photo bottom right: Lucy Zamora.

Dance Alchemy 3The Earth Monastery Project is a partnership between the Abbey and carefully selected applicants, who will receive resources to complete a Project which nourish an earth-cherishing consciousness and cultivate a vision of the earth as our primary monastery. The EMP is a small grant project funded by donations, income from Amazon Associates program, and through a percentage of fees from Abbey online courses.

Candice Tritch and Andrew Janssen are grant recipients for their Dance Alchemy project application.

Dance Alchemy (click to like their Facebook page) enjoys a startling popularity in nations around the world, rising on Facebook from 95 fans in mid-August 2013 to over 31,000 fans now. We are particularly moved by the strong fan base coming from regions which are currently in, or have recently known, great conflict and consequent ravaging of the Earth. Now it is time to reach out to that fan base, identify those who feel as we do about peace and respect for the Earth, and unite them in a common project. The Earth Monastery’s Monk Manifesto and the “Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks” concept have both inspired this project.

Dance Alchemy 2Dance Alchemy is committed to spreading world peace. Our motto, found on our website and all our materials, is We put the Move in Peace Movement.

The Abbey Wisdom Council was drawn to Candice and Andrew's proposal because Dance Alchemy engages dance in the service of the earth with a Peace/Earth choreography and video project inviting dancers from around the world to participate. (To participate in their project click here!)

Our grantees from the fall cycle are midway through their projects and so offer their reports which we are excited to share an excerpt from what Candice and Andrew shared with us.

Dance Alchemy by Candice Tritch and Andrew Janssen

The Dance4Peace on Earth documentary is well underway. Our  initial dance video and the accompanying instructional video were shot, edited, and put up on the new Dance4Peace on Earth website. Now the word is spreading by any and every means, and we are hearing back from people in other parts of the world who want to participate.

Beginning from when we  received word that you were awarding us the grant, up through the present. Further along in this section, there is a link to the new Dance4Peace website,
where you can watch and read more about the project. Since December, 2013,

  • Incorporated Dance Alchemy, Inc., and are well into the process of becoming a tax exempt organization. We are receiving help from the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts; the Earth Monastery Project grant was part of why they took us seriously and extended low/no-cost services.
  • Composed, arranged, and recorded an original soundtrack, “Vast & Eternal River.” This music evolved across January and February, with the help of several talented people who’s names appear in the film credits.
  • Created an original choreography to the soundtrack. Both it and the soundtrack were strongly influenced by First Nations rhythms and movements, as you will see.
  • Filmed the dance at five different locations around Baltimore in just two days, February 1st and 2nd. The locations were chosen after extensive scouting in the prior weeks. Each, in its own way, represents mindful reclamation and repurposing of spaces, along with having local historical significance. We shot a total of 51 takes in approximately 14 hours, including travel. We mention each by name in the credits, as well as on the Thanks page of the website.
  • Created a new special section of our website, specifically to showcase the project. The site is designed to make it easy for viewers to grasp the idea, watch the videos, and sign up to participate.
  • Researched, discovered, and implemented a piece of Google code that translates the entire site into virtually any major language on Earth.
  • Began a campaign, using email, Facebook, the website, and whatever other means we could find, to get the word out and invite people to join the dance. We also created a YouTube channel for the project, and are dressing it up this week as part of the overall promotion.
  • Already we’ve seen significant interest in the form of Facebook “likes” and sharing of our links there. Also, visits to the Dance4Peace website have risen sharply. People are getting back to us, asking questions and saying they want to be involved, from places like Venezuela, Haiti, and Benin.

Do you want to be involved in Dance Alchemy's dance video project?

See the dance to "Vast and Eternal River" here:

Learn the dance here (go dancing monks!):

You can participate in this project by letting them know you will be submitting your own video here.

Applications for our next round of Earth Monastery Project grants are now being accepted through April 3oth! We welcome your proposal! Please see this link for details and feel free to email us with any questions.

Would you consider making a donation to this work and support future projects which nourish an earth-cherishing consciousness? (Go to the bottom of this page for the payment link – credit cards accepted)

"Soul Awakes and Sings" (a love note from your online Abbess)

tulips 2

"Even under its burden / the soul awakes and sings"

—Trish Bruxvoort Colligan, from her song "Soul Awakes and Sings" off her just about to be released album Wild Acre)

We must risk delight. . . We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. . .
We must admit there will be music despite everything.

—Jack Gilbert, "A Brief for the Defense" (excerpt)

"I want / to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees."

—Pablo Neruda, Love Poem XIV (excerpt)

Dearest monks, pilgrims, and artists,

Spring is slowly arriving here in Galway. We have had several days of glorious sunshine, when we can throw open the windows, interspersed with western Ireland's moody, misty weather. This dance will continue through the summer.

Many of you at the Abbey know Trish Bruxvoort Colligan as one of our beloved wisdom council members, a treasured teaching colleague, and a fabulous musician as well. She is about to release a new album called "Wild Acre" (as in, "keep a wild acre alive in your love" – and you know the Abbey is all about cultivating some wildness of heart out at the sacred edges of life).

As one of her campaign funders, I had the privilege of getting an advance listen this past week. Her song "Soul Awakes and Sings" has been shimmering for me, and I find myself singing the line quoted at the top of this love note spontaneously. It rises up and wants to be given voice. These kinds of encounters become a kind of lectio divina with life, where a moment of life shimmers forth, offering a sacred invitation that is revealed slowly over time.

This was a difficult winter weather-wise in Ireland. Fierce winds combined with super high tides and heavy rain made for lots of flooding. Over this past year I have befriended the wind, but her howling strength made it difficult to get out for our walks by the sea which keep me awake and grounded, and a restlessness grew in me.

I found myself also struggling with other things internally. Some of it financial, some of it health wise. It is, of course, a tremendous gift to do the work I do and earn a living from it, and we earn just enough at the moment to cover our needs. But then the demons of anxiety and future planning cause me to wonder if we will be able to ever save for the future. Or what might happen if serious illness strikes and one of us is unable to work. Being self-employed can sometimes feel a bit precarious. For whatever reason, this winter was a time for these concerns to visit and settle in for a while.

There is a stream in spiritual circles that would want me to simply rally hope and happiness loud enough to drown out those worries. They might tell me to have faith, or to trust, as if it were as easy as clicking my heels and think my way to different thoughts.

Instead, I practiced that most challenging of monastic virtues, hospitality, and welcomed in the anxieties and fears, but instead of letting their appearance have the final say, I sat with them and listened for what was underneath. I remembered our dog Winter who came to us so afraid of humans that she would never reveal her belly for rubs, and how with time and love, she eventually, slowly, carefully, rolled over on her back and exposed herself in that most vulnerable way.

My practice this past season became making space for the things that were difficult. As I sat in the discomfort I slowly saw the tenderness beneath revealed. I felt this extraordinary compassion for all the people I knew struggling financially, the sometimes relentless feeling of always pushing forward. I felt bound to others in new ways by being honest about this place within me, and deep gratitude for the opportunities I have been given. I have not solved the issue, only softened my relationship to it and found a sweetness there.

It is one of my deepest convictions that when we are true to the deepest experiences of fall and winter in our souls, that we carve out space for a more profound kind of joy. In the seasons of my own life, I have had many dark journeys, struggled with depression a hundred times over, and learned the kind of fierce attention the desert monks brought to all of life. And in that fierce presence, there are cracks in the dry soil that make way for the buds of springtime. The challenge is that we must sit in the space of unknowing, truly in the dark as to when the spring will come.

In my own journey, I have learned that when these struggles come to visit, that denying them only pushes them underground, choking out the life awaiting me. And so I have cultivated a trust in the soulfulness of honest struggle, knowing that it may not bring me where I want to go, but I will be transformed.

One of the things I love most about living in Galway are the extraordinary opportunities to hear live music by so many talented musicians. Sitting in a pub or a theater, music brings me fully present and calls to mind the great writer Dostoevsky's words that "beauty will save the world." In the arts I can discover a place where I can live with the difficult places of life right alongside its beauty. I can embrace the whole spectrum of my aliveness.

With completing our first pilgrimage group here in Ireland, the arrival of calmer weather and warmer breezes, and my excited anticipation over nearly a month of traveling in the U.S. to visit family and teach coming up next week, my soul is definitely shifting toward spring.

So I listen to Trish's song, and hear those haunting lyrics speaking truth to me, "even under its burden, the soul awakes and sings" and my heart ushers in an honest amen. I "risk delight" as Jack Gilbert advises is his powerful poem, and discover that in this act of yielding to the joy awaiting me in the midst of burdens, God does to my soul what spring does with the cherry trees.

And when the sorrow visits again, I can greet her like an old friend, and know that she is only passing through. I have learned to trust the rhythm of the seasons. I have learned to cherish the wisdom of both winter and spring.

If springtime isn't arriving yet to your soul, can you offer a hospitable place to winter?
Is there a song speaking to your heart, carrying a prayer with it?

Join us for a new Community Lectio Divina posted with a text from the Song of Songs inviting you into your own blossoming, a new wonderful Monk in the World guest posts by fellow monk in the world DG Hollums, and an update from one of our Earth Monastery Project grant recipients building a Monarch butterfly waystation (plus grant applications are currently being accepted).

If your heart is longing for some springtime of the soul in community, consider joining us for Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist online and starting soon (just a couple of spaces left!). For those of you seeking the wisdom of the Celtic tradition through personal encounter, we have just posted 2015 dates for our Monk in the World Pilgrimages to Ireland.

If you are a young adult (20s or 30s) or you know someone in that fresh time of life who would cherish time spent in Ireland in a retreat-style pilgrimage exploring Celtic wisdom for discernment, we will be posting details soon for a journey next March 18-25, 2015. Let me know if you want more information.

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Photo of tulips by Christine