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… 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

Community Lectio Divina: Song of Songs

With April comes a new invitation for contemplation. In the northern hemisphere, spring is slowly arriving with birdsong and blooming. Wherever we live on this beautiful planet, we can tend to the flowering that happens within after a season of fallowness. The outer seasons become a mirror for our inner experience.

I invite you into a lectio divina practice with some words from one of my favorite biblical books: Song of Songs.

How Community Lectio Divina works:

button-lectioEach month there will be a passage selected from scripture, poetry, or other sacred texts (and occasionally visio and audio divina as well with art and music).

For the year I am choosing an overarching theme of discernment. I feel like the Abbey is in the midst of some wonderful transition, movement, and expansion.

How amazing it would be to discern together the movements of the Spirit at work in the hearts of monks around the world.

I invite you to set aside some time this week to pray with the text below. Here is a handout with a brief overview (feel free to reproduce this handout and share with others as long as you leave in the attribution at the bottom – thank you!)

Lean into silence, pray the text, listen to what shimmers, allow the images and memories to unfold, tend to the invitation, and then sit in stillness.

For see, the winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.

The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of pruning the vines has come,
and the song of the dove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance.
Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one,
and come!   —Song of Songs 2:11-13

After you have prayed with the text (and feel free to pray with it more than once – St. Ignatius wrote about the deep value of repetition in prayer, especially when something feels particularly rich) spend some time journaling what insights arise for you.

How is this text calling to your dancing monk heart in this moment of your life?

What does this text have to offer to your discernment journey of listening moment by moment to the invitation from the Holy?

What wisdom emerged that may be just for you, but may also be for the wider community?

Sharing Your Responses

Please share the fruits of your lectio divina practice in the comments below (at the bottom of the page) or at our Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group which you can join here. There are over 1300 members and it is a wonderful place to find connection and community with others on this path.

You might share the word or phrase that shimmered, the invitation that arose from your prayer, or artwork you created in response. There is something powerful about naming your experience in community and then seeing what threads are woven between all of our responses.

You can see the full winter/spring 2014 calendar of invitations here>>

Join the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group here>>

*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: DG Hollums

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for DG Hollums' wisdom on seeing the world more deeply:

I’ve always been an outgoing extrovert. My soul is filled up by being around others and enjoying the smiles and love of others around me. As a child I was passionately quick to love and really did not know a stranger. I was always the one that would hug others. Even those who did not “appreciate” hugs, I would make a B-line for them just to make sure they knew that they were loved. Of course, I can look back now and see that it was God using me to remind others that they are loved.

This extrovert in me stayed alive and well all through high school, undergrad, and seminary. But while working in a cubical farm in the marketing department of a fast food chain, I found the Wesley Covenant Prayer. I taped the prayer to my computer screen at work and prayed it as the first thing I did before I started work and prayed it as the last thing I did before leaving to go home.

It was the first time I experienced a rhythm to my life in relationship with God. This daily pattern was the first taste I had of anything contemplative in nature. I eventually attended seminary and fell in love with listening and seeing through the lens of my heart.

Road to Black Lakes - DG HollumsIt wasn’t until I bought my first Digital SLR camera that I remembered the passion I had for photography back in my undergrad black and white photography classes. This awe inspiring gift that God allows each of us to join in the holy act of being co-creators alongside the Trinity was flooding my mind, reminding me who I was at the core of my being! It was as if I realized that in the past 15 years I was missing an entire piece of my human nature by not joining God through art.

Fishing Bridge - DG HollumsI spent the next 10 years of my life using photography as a spiritual practice/disciple. I had a friend receiving his doctorate of ministry tell me his teacher was speaking about Celtic Christianity having the belief that God created two books. The little book being what we call the Bible and the big book what we call creation. After spending a day receiving images through my camera and heart with God, it dawned on me that I was doing Lectio Divina with the big book! Photography, for me, was receiving the creation into my heart and soul. It fed the newly introduced contemplative in me.  In the past 2 years, God has been challenging me to bring bring balance into my past and future self. So, I’m slowing allowing the extrovert in me to share this contemplative rhythm through teaching others this amazing spiritual practice in the use of photography. He is showing me how to help others to experience transformation and to be able to become contagious in their lives and hearts so that God transforms the very communities where we have been planted. I have great gratitude and thanks for Christine for writing “Eyes of the Heart” and giving me a language and foundation for what I have been practicing for so long! Her book was an empowering pivotal moment in my contemplative practices through photography.

Abby of Gethsemani - DG HollumsMy prayer and passion is that Christianity once again embraces the beautiful enigma of art and creativity in each of our faith walks through the rhythmic tones of life. This is not only for artists:  it is for everyone! This gift is freedom found in our lives. We get to  develop a deeper sensitivity of hearing (Audio Divina), seeing (Visio Divina), and sensing (Sensus Divina) God: in, around, and through each of us and the creation. The more we put these practices into our daily and weekly rhythms, the more and more sensitive we will be at hearing the still small silence and voice of God in our lives in the small book and the big book. Then and only then will we be able to become the dancing monks and friers God has in mind for those called to be living expressions of the art of God. May you be blessed to be a blessing through living a life that is echoing and mirroring the divine relationship with all those around you. Start the journey or continue it, but make sure you are traveling.

Covenant Prayer
From John Wesley's Covenant Service , 1780

I am no longer my own, but thine.

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.

Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and heartily yield all things

to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,

let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

DG HollumsD.G. Hollums M.Div., is a clergy in The United Methodist Church, born and raised in west Texas. He is currently the Sr. Pastor at High Desert UMC (a small church in Rio Rancho, NM since June 2013) D.G. spent the past three years intentionally working at Apple Inc. to show the need for clergy to develop relationships beyond the church to offer community to those who have none. Before Apple, he was a United Methodist church planter in the Cincinnati, OH tristate area doing experimental church planting using communal Lectio Divina in pubs with people of all faiths developing Christ centered community and relationships among strangers. During this time he started to develop a method and spiritual practice of Visio Divina through contemplative photography from the photographer’s eye; as well as, those viewing the art. It has become his passion to help those with faith to empower them to become more sensitive to the "thin space” moments around them and receive them wholeheartedly. He is also a podcaster and lover of culture and a foodie! His wife, Tiffany, is also clergy in the United Methodist Church and they have one 3-year-old adopted daughter that they both are smitten in love with. You can find D.G.’s photography at

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

Earth Monastery Project Update:
Monarch Butterfly Waystation


The 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. Dr. Martha Brunnell is one of our grant recipients for her project establishing a Monarch Waystation and native wildlife habitat among broad fields and winding roads in northern Illinois adjacent to the Mayfield Congregational Church UCC, where she is the pastor.

The Abbey Wisdom Council was drawn to Martha's proposal because the Waystation offers a place rest and birthing for the butterflies as an act of what Martha described as "an act of ecological hospitality" as they "help sustain the wonder of the annual monarch
migration, recognize our role in the web of life, and develop a contemplative
space in creation for others to join us."

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 Martha shared with us.

Prairie Oasis: Mayfield Monarch Waystation by Martha Brunnell

I have begun collecting various butterfly and monarch resources and have already made use of several of them in worship.  I have started to listen for and seed a future retreat/workshop on Monarchs, Milkweed, Metamorphosis, and Migration.  I anticipate our annual fall outdoor worship in early September will be held around the young waystation rather than in its typical location elsewhere on the grounds.  The fall equinox will likely be when we choose to officially dedicate the waystation.  We will have several intergenerational events at church during this summer.  They will draw spiritual and educational content from our monarch waystation underway and will include a banner project.

It will take two to three years for the waystation, like any garden, to be solidly established.  We are dreaming about signage and educational materials we will have on site and about deliberately encouraging a web of waystations all over the county.  We may consider becoming part of the international quiet garden movement.  In this movement, quiet garden spaces are intentionally open to be shared with the public at designated and advertised times.  The earth monastery metaphor is appropriate for us.

If the winter had not been as difficult and long as it has, we would have begun preparing the land weeks ago.  The snow should soon be gone.  Then the first actual gardening step will be to cover the waystation ground with a heavy plastic.  It will kill all the invasive plants currently growing there.  By the end of the grant cycle this summer, the initial shrubs, plants, and grasses will be planted, the pathway will be laid out, and benches ordered and maybe even in place.  Your grant last fall was the impetus for us to put a dream into action.  All evidence suggests that the window of opportunity to impact this magnificent monarch migration is right now, or the time will pass.  The shrubs and plants purchased with your grant money along with plant and seed donations from others in the county will lay the groundwork for financial and plant contributions over the next several years while the waystation matures.

Yesterday afternoon, I stood at the window overlooking the waystation site.  There was a male pheasant with two female pheasants cavorting about the yard.  Pheasants are ground nesters.  Will they settle in our soon-to-be garden/waystation/oasis?  As it goes for monarchs in the county, it will go for other pollinators too.  With a garden growing into a more secure environment for the pollinators, the entire ecosystem will strengthen and diversify, all within sight of our eyes and heart. Thank you for the wonder!

They also had a wonderful article published about their project in their local newspaper: “Stewards of Nature: Mayfield planting a prairie to help monarch migration." We will be sharing more from Martha and the Monarch Waystation at the end of the grant cycle as well.

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)