Monk in the World guest post: Elysha O'Brien

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Elysha O'Brien's wisdom on living contemplatively in the chaos:

We are a People of Pattern

It is morning. The children have been sent out the door and the downstairs neighbor's dog begins to howl and cry and yip. My day has already started with noise and chaos and it will take everything in my power to rein it back. But the dog… the dog with his high pitched bark and relentless cry, telling the world his saga of agony and abandonment. I am torn between utter aggravation and empathy for the dog left alone. And his bark continues without pattern, devoid of all sense of music. I think he will quiet down after a two-minute lull, but then the howling begins, and he intersperses his howling with yips and this annoying, maddening sound continues all day long.

Is there any sound more frustrating than those that do not follow a steady rhythm?

We are a people of pattern. We like repetition and harmony, alliteration and resonance. Sounds with pattern we can block out, dull into the periphery of our being… the constant tick of a clock, and even a steady dripping faucet can be forgotten as the noise slides into the patterns of our day.

We prefer structure. Organization. Order.

We mark our days, seasons, and years through repeated pattern. We classify these patterns into systems. The universe has solar systems. Our human body has systems and when systems are found, order… peace… calm is achieved. We like steady unceasing, classifiable patterns.

And yet. I am unsure where this need for order, for pattern belongs. Surely my God is a God that rules chaos too.

God has often been referred as a “potter”. Any potter’s studio I’ve been in has been anything but clean. Sure it is organized, but it is not an organization I readily grasp. There is mess and disarray everywhere. This clashes significantly with the structured/accountant/organized image of God much of the world prefers. God as potter? Or God as accountant? Perhaps it is God as potter/accountant.

I think my God likes to get dirty. I think my God works well in chaos and mess. I think he prefers a people that are malleable like wet clay that he can form and shape within the beauty of his chaotic studio.

Our world is chaotic and our world loves noise, and so we use silence and solitude to find God… but for me I must learn to find God in the noise. My world is rarely quiet. With three boys under the age of 12, my life is one giant sports arena, and though I yearn for mellow and quiet days, such days occur at great intervals. How depleted my soul would be if I only connected with God in times of reflection. No. I must deliberately choose to search for God in the chaos. Because he is right there, always by my side, I need only attune my eyes, ears, and heart to him.

It is easy to find God when the house is quiet, when the children are sleeping, when the world is calm; but finding God amidst the noise, among life’s aggravations, this is the mark of mystic. While hurricanes collide into shore and tornados uproot foundations… when the dog won’t shut up and the kids keep arguing, the mystic does not seek calm. The mystic is calm because God is there. In the mess. In the chaos. Not keeping a tally, not passing a judgment, but setting about creating His art, His beauty, His masterpiece, and working with those that are flexible and malleable and ready to be shaped.

….After many long hours, the dog finally stops crying, and now my children collide back home, through the door, and under my feet, bringing their great cavalcade of noise with them. Soon it is nighttime, and slumber has overtaken children and dogs. The house is calm and serene. Now, the horrible sirens (the loudest of them all) of my own merciless thoughts scream loudly in my head, and the self-criticism and remorse follows no pattern, has no harmony. I am lost in my own ruin. But, drowning in personal sorrow, I remember my prayer to seek God in the dissonance, to find God through the cacophony. And I search God in the chaos. I know He is there.

How do we find compassion for the dog downstairs that will not shut up? How do we discipline children who are supposed to be little and loud? How do we find peace in the endless stream of unsteady noise outside ourselves and inside our own hearts?

We begin with words such as these: “You are the potter, I am the clay.” And we trust that God will stand with us when he puts us into the fire.

Elysha OBrienElysha O’Brien is a wife and mother of three boys, ages 11, 10, and 7. She earned her Ph.D. in literacy in 2011, and has presented at many literacy conferences. She enjoys reading, writing, scrapbooking, traveling, and dancing. Someday, she plans on attending theology school, meanwhile she writes.

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

Sun's Pilgrimage (a love note from your online Abbess)

Galway Bay

Winter Solstice


this winter’s
of the year
let us go gently
— for once –
into the night,
its dream-drenched,
glittering stillness
a haven for our souls.

is something
beyond the dull
brightness of mid-day,
fluorescent and buzzing.
Something to praise
beyond the sun,
triumphing over the intricacies
of shadowed moonlight.

in the old,
beautiful realm
of Holy Night,
echoing with ancient voices,
rustling with intimacy’s passion,
luminous with stars.

Cradled in darkness,
be restored to the embrace of mystery.

Glory wakes here.

Let it kindle
your joy.

Rebecca Parker

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

In just a few days the northern hemisphere experiences the Winter Solstice which is that moment of pause and turning, Our apartment windows face east and south, so one of the great gifts I am experiencing is watching the sun make her pilgrimage across the horizon from summer solstice to winter solstice over the last six months. It is quite a long journey, and on Sunday she will rest at her point furthest south, appearing to stand still for three days before making the return journey again in the long walk toward summer.  It is a rhythm of journey, pause, and return, again and again. It reminds me a great deal of walking a labyrinth and the way I follow the path inward, pause and receive the gifts at the center, and then begin to move more fully out into the world carrying the light that is growing.

Of course, this is all happening in reverse in the southern hemisphere, and the whole world is experiencing a dance of movement and light waxing or waning, of the sacred rhythms of the sky and seasons.

I am grateful that in the last few years I have been able to step out of the rush of the holiday season for the most part. It is an intentional choice, my gift-buying is limited, we tend not to travel far, and so there is the grace of being present to the embrace of darkness and the descent into stillness. These days always kindle much reflection for me. Approaching the end of the calendar year also invites a look back on what the previous year has meant and what are the invitations as I enter another cycle around the sun. I have been listening closely for my word to arrive, savoring the possibilities that quicken my heart, and letting them ripen until ready to claim.

One of the invitations which seem to be laying claim to my attention and affections more fiercely these days are a call to deepen into this place that has chosen me, on the western edge of Ireland, perched by the sea, between the gorgeous landscapes of Connemara and the Burren, and to feel myself really at home. To learn the names and stories of this place, to deepen into its wisdom.

Another invitation is to continue leaning into this image of the Earth as Original Monastery which was given to me this year as both call and summons to deepen into my intimacy with the earth, the seasons, the tides, the landscape.

These two feel intimately connected one to the other, and are a living out of the monk's call to stability, of deepening into place, of descending rather than widening.

What are the invitations bubbling up for you in moments of stillness?

This Advent I am sharing a weekly series of reflections from the Abbey archives on honoring the four weeks of Advent through the four elements. This week we listen for the wisdom of water:

"The bass and trout hiding in the deep pools of the river are canonized by their beauty and their strength. The lakes hidden among the hills are saints, and the sea too is a saint who praises God without interruption in her majestic dance. —Thomas Merton

"For this third week of Advent I invite you to consider the element of water as an inspiration for your prayer and a way to grow in intimacy with creation. The gospel reading for this week is from John and celebrates water's life-giving qualities through John's call to baptize in preparation for the one who is to come."

Click here to read the whole reflection>>
Click here for the reflection on fire>>
Click here for the reflection on air>>

We also have posted our Give Me a Word 2015 invitation with a free 12-day mini-retreat included and a chance to win one of many amazing prizes so generously shared from our Wisdom Council members. Be sure to stop by and see what is inspired in your heart for the year ahead.

Join us in the New Year for an online retreat on Illuminating the Way: Monks, Mystics, and Archetypes. Our Advent retreat is underway and a rich and glorious feast with a wonderful community gathered. We'd love to have you with us.

With great and growing love,


Photo above of Galway Bay by Christine

Week 3 Advent Practices: Water's Wisdom

This is a weekly Advent series by Christine from the Abbey archives. If praying the with the four elements kindles a spark in you, consider my book Water, Wind, Earth, & Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements.

The bass and trout hiding in the deep pools of the river are canonized by their beauty and their strength. The lakes hidden among the hills are saints, and the sea too is a saint who praises God without interruption in her majestic dance. —Thomas Merton

For this third week of Advent I invite you to consider the element of water as an inspiration for your prayer and a way to grow in intimacy with creation. The gospel reading for this week is from John and celebrates water's life-giving qualities through John's call to baptize in preparation for the one who is to come.

Hildegard of Bingen coined the term viriditas to describe the "greening power of God." She applies this word to the moistness of the earth as well as the soul.  The natural world is not simply inert, but filled with life and power. Hildegard writes that "earth wears her green vigor." Her emphasis on greenness symbolizes the inner dynamism of life in all its burgeoning growth, vibrancy, freshness, and fecundity as emanating from the life-creating power of God. It expresses her conviction of God as the source, sustainer, and energizer of all life. We are called in this season to tend to the places in our own lives where we need to invite in greater greenness and life-giving waters to nourish us.

During Advent, our anticipation over the new birth coming from the ancient womb of creation may be trying our patience as we enter the third week of waiting. Yet the call is to patience, to honor the slow unfolding of creation and of our own lives. Rather than force life into our own plans and expectations, can we remain open-hearted, and listen for the invitation of water's gifts to us? The process of birthing takes nine long months in the sacred holding space of the womb's water. Where are we tempted to rush things in our own lives that require still more tending, more waiting, and more patience?

In Cherokee tradition, water is associated with the season of autumn and the hour of dusk. Autumn and dusk call us to become aware of the movement toward endings in our lives. Water invites us to enter life's flow and to honor the cycles and rhythms of life. In the northern hemisphere as the darkness continues to grow we are also invited to become present to our own mortality. The element of water reminds us to honor our own rhythms of rising and falling and in this coming season to allow time for rest and hibernation.

There is a story from the Russian Orthodox tradition where a young man goes to Fr. Seraphim to learn how to pray. He is sent out to the ocean to learn the wisdom of ebbing and flowing. He learns to synchronize his breath with the "great breathing rhythm of the waves." As he floats on the sea he also discovers the great calmness of the sea below its undulating surface and he learns to hold awareness of his own distinct self without being carried away by the rhythm of breathing.

This week let the element of water offer wisdom for your journey. Listen for how the presence of the sacred is pulsing through this divine gift and the flow of your life.

Practices for Advent

  • Water calls us to tend to our own natural rhythms. See if you can allow yourself one day, or even an afternoon, during the Advent season where you simply listen to the rise and fall of your energy and desires. What happens when you eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired, and walk when your body longs for movement? What gifts might await you if you allow your life to have its own flow? In our world of 24-hour illumination and productivity we forget the call of our bodies and responding to their needs. Instead of drinking another cup of coffee to stay awake, try sinking into a long nap. Instead of a quick energy bar to stave off hunger, consider making time to lovingly prepare a meal from scratch.
  • Clean water is a tremendous gift we often take for granted in the first world. As you shower each morning, offer a prayer of exuberant gratitude. When you drink a glass of water throughout the day, allow it to be an act of self-blessing and remember those who don't have access to clean water. Remember that water hydrates and sustains you so you might offer your gifts back in service to the world. Consider making a donation to support access to clean water in poor communities around the world.
  • If you have an altar for Advent, consider placing a shell or bowl of water there as a reminder to honor water's gifts.

Invitation to Photography: Thomas Merton on Silence

button-photographyWelcome to this month's Abbey Photo Party!

select a theme and invite you to respond with images.

We began this month with a Community Lectio Divina practice with our reflection on Silence from Thomas Merton.

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 re-size 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 harvest 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.

Monk in the World guest post: Deborah Svec

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Deborah Svec's wisdom on remembering who she is:

Retreat to Remember

Svec_backpackBeing more fully present to “ordinary” life requires a retreat from the everyday from time to time.  With a circle of women, I make a pilgrimage to the mountains, where I can remember who I am and see more clearly my place in the larger world.  This year was our fourth trip to the mountains for a week-long spiritual retreat.

Rather than sitting and looking out at the landscape for a week, we immerse ourselves in it, gleaning wisdom from our experiences in creation.  We enter in, hiking trails that lead us to amazing vistas where we can see for miles.  All that we need we carry in our backpacks: layers of clothing, water, food, and our journals.

As I step onto the trail, I step into fear – the fear that my physical body won’t be able to take me where I want to go, that pain in my back, shoulders or knees will keep me from finishing what I start.  Without fail, my body responds, doing more than I thought it could, helping me to climb rocks and get an even better view of the landscape.  On the trail, I pick my way through the rocks on the path, present to the moment and to the steps directly in front of me.  If I look too far ahead, I may miss a rock right under my feet and trip.  The journey reminds me to be present to my life, not getting too far ahead of my own story.

We walk as community, one lending a hand to the other when needed to make our way up and down the path.  Those who move at a faster pace will stop and wait for the slower ones.  We pause to catch our breath when necessary, reminding one another to care for our bodies by resting and taking a drink of water.  In no hurry to reach the top, we stop to take pictures along the way, noticing the small details that get lost in the larger landscape: the red, purple, pink, yellow, white and blue flowers; the shape of a tree trunk and the deep grooves of its bark; the layers and colors of a rock; the orange and white butterflies fluttering between the flowers.

Svec_windWhen we reach the top and can see out over the landscape, we sit and rest, nourishing our bodies with food and water.  My taste buds come alive as I devour my lunch, savoring every bite of the smooth peanut butter in my sandwich, a sweet apple and salty potato chips.  The food always tastes better on the trail, as if a master chef had prepared it just for me.

As I look out to the mountains, the trees and the sky that seems to go on forever, I realize I hunger for more than food, which is why I am here.  I watch the shadows of the clouds dance over the trees below, the light and dark playing together on the landscape.  The dancing light reminds me that darkness within cannot last, because where there is darkness there must also be light.  The wind at the top of the mountain surrounds me, like God, holding me up, pushing me forward – or holding me back.  The Holy Breath is my breath.

The water rushes down the mountain, the rivers and streams running fast and full due to the heavy snows last winter.  The water’s power is unstoppable – it goes where it will without regard for what might be in its way.  I watch the small tree, hanging on for dear life as the waters rush over it relentlessly.  As we ascend the trail with the waters rushing down alongside us, I remember the necessity to work against powers that would hold me back or limit me.  The water pushes me along the trail as we descend, reminding me of the support I receive when I’m “in the flow.”

In the evenings, we gather to reflect and share the wisdom received on the trail from the trees, the water, the mountains, the sky, the wind, and one another.  As we share around the circle, I hear my voice in the voices of others, my story in their stories.  I remember that we are all connected, to one another and to the larger world we have journeyed in together through the week.  On our last evening together, we celebrate our connection to God and one another with communion.  Afterwards, we step outside and stare in amazement at the blanket of stars above, unobstructed by light pollution or clouds.

I go to the mountains to remember who I am, to rediscover my center and to hear the voice of God, calling me back and reminding me of my goodness and my light.  The mountains remind me I am part of a much larger world, here for only a breath in time.  The circle of women I travel with remind me of the importance of community.  They support me, hold me up, push me forward, hold me accountable, celebrate my joys, hold me in my sorrows, and listen to my dreams, my fears and my uncertainties.

By entering into the landscape and being present to it, I have become part of it.

Deborah Svec_headshotDeborah Svec is a writer from Iowa.  When she is not hiking, she enjoys practicing yoga, singing in a community chorus, and playtime with nieces and nephews.

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

Give Me a Word 2015: 6th Annual Abbey Giveaway (Free gifts & prizes too!)

Share your Word for 2015

In ancient times, wise men and women fled out into the desert to find a place where they could be fully present to God and to their own inner struggles at work within them. The desert became a place to enter into the refiner's fire and be stripped down to one's holy essence. The desert was a threshold place where you emerged different than when you entered.

Many people followed these ammas and abbas, seeking their wisdom and guidance for a meaningful life. One tradition was to ask for a word –  this word or phrase would be something on which to ponder for many days, weeks, months, sometimes a whole lifetime. This practice is connected to lectio divina, where we approach the sacred texts with the same request – "give me a word" we ask – something to nourish me, challenge me, a word I can wrestle with and grow into.  The word which chooses us has the potential to transform us.

  • What is your word for the year ahead? A word which contains within it a seed of invitation to cross a new threshold in your life?

Share your word in the comments section below by Tuesday, January 6, 2015 and you are automatically entered for the prize drawing (prizes listed below).

A free 12-day online mini-retreat to help your word choose you. . .

As in past years, I am offering all Abbey newsletter subscribers a gift: a free 12-day online mini-retreat with a suggested practice for each day to help your word choose you and to deepen into your word once it has found you. Even if you participated last year, you are more than welcome to register again.

Sign up here and you can start your mini-retreat today. Once you subscribe you will receive the first email within an hour and then one email each day for 12 days. Your information will never be shared or sold.

Win a Prize – Random Drawing Giveaway on January 6th!

I am delighted to offer some wonderful gifts from the Abbey and friends and supporters of the Abbey's work:

So please share your word (and it would be wonderful to include a sentence about what it means for you) with us below.  Subscribe to the Abbey newsletter to receive ongoing inspiration in your in-box. Share the love with others and invite them to participate.  Then stay tuned – on January 6th I will announce the prize winners!

If this is your first time commenting at the Abbey, or you are including a link, your comment will need to be approved before appearing, which usually takes less than 24 hours.

Welcome Liz Rasmussen!

We are delighted to have Liz Rasmussen now offering some support at the Abbey blog in the coming months. She will be checking in with our weekly blog post invitations to lectio, photography, poetry, and dance and offering support and responses to those who post. Liz had a stroke last year and I am beyond grateful for her process of recovery (even though it might be slower than she would like). Here are some words from Liz:

Alizabeth RasmussenJust before the stroke, Christine asked me if I would work for her. At that time she was switching over from Ning to Ruzuku and she was looking for part-time help. But I was so honored at the possibly, I didn’t care what the project was. To help Christine and the Abbey flourish, that was enough for me.

Now I’m back, to help out anyway I can.

Eighteen months after a stroke is not a lot of time for recovery. In fact, I will be recovering for the rest of my life. I have accepted that (most days).

I’m excited. But…

I’m scared, too. What if it’s too much? What if I leave out some words? Or mix them up?

So then I remind myself, I feel safe in this community of artists, dreamers, dancers, poets, painters, nature-lovers, all of whom prayed for me during these challenging times (whether you knew it or not!).

So, you’ll see my name pop-up in reply to your posts, and as long as love rules, then what’s the difference if I’ve missed a word or two?

Begin again, literally…start that sentence, start that word, start that thought. Start slowly…just start.

Thanks, Christine.

Please join me in welcoming her!

Week 2 Advent Practices: Following the Fire

This is a weekly Advent series by Christine from the Abbey archives. If praying the with the four elements kindles a spark in you, consider my book Water, Wind, Earth, & Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements.

Every being is praising God
The fire has its flame and praises God.
The wind blows the flame and praises God.
In the voice we hear the word which praises God.
And the word, when heard, praises God.
So all of creation is a song of praise to God.  —
Hildegard of Bingen

In the first week of our Advent series we focused on the scriptural image of awakening and the gift of breath as our connection to creation. This second week of Advent the scripture readings call us to "prepare the way" (Mark 1:1-8) for our journey toward the Holy One. We are invited to follow the fire in our hearts toward the passion that calls us to be fully alive.

In Cherokee tradition, the element of fire is connected to the midday sun and the season of summer. Fire calls us to celebrate the fullness of life, those times when all of our needs are satisfied and we experience the fecundity of the earth. One of my primary spiritual practices is taking a contemplative walk each day. In the ancient contemplative tradition of lectio divina, I bring myself present to the world as my feet kiss the earth, and I listen for what is shimmering in creation. Through my practice, I approach nature as an illuminated manuscript — and I believe the brilliance of sunlight dancing across water and leaves was the inspiration for those ancient monks to generously apply gold leaf to the pages of sacred text — and if I listen closely I can discover how the fire in the world is calling me to respond.

In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard writes: "the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation . . .The whole show has been on fire from the word go . . . everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn't flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames." When St. Benedict had a mystical experience near the end of his life, he saw the whole world gathered into a single ray of light. As Hildegard of Bingen describes in the opening quote, all of creation participates in one unending hymn of praise, and our own liturgy arises from this eternal song.

Fire is a primal element and the image of light carries us through Advent. We light candles each week to symbolize the growing flame within us as we approach the birth of Light. The Spanish mystic John of the Cross described God as the "living flame of love" who burns within our hearts. Fire urges us toward the One whose radiance is expressed through our own acts of love.

There is a wildness to fire. The path we are called to prepare for the coming of the Divine Light is not the path of our pre-planned expectations or paved with consumer frenzy. Fire purifies and burns away excess. On the road to birthing the sacred in our midst, we must leave behind what is not necessary. The season of Advent demands that we surrender the excesses that keep us from following the way unfolding before us. Creation is crying out for us to release our worship of consumption and return the fire of our hearts to a compassionate embrace of all living things. We are called to kindle and spark our inner flames, and then unleash the passion that rises and allow it to move out into the world. Teilhard de Chardin suggested that one day we will "harness for God energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world we will have discovered fire."

Practices for Advent:

  • One of the main traditions for Advent is creating a wreath and lighting one of four candles each week. Consider as you light the candles each week to offer a prayer for passion and the fire of love to sustain you through these winter days. Savor the growing light and offer a commitment to bring that fire to the world.
  • Last week we connected to the breath. This week allow some time to connect to the fire and heat of your body. Place a hand on your heart and imagine the living flame dwelling within you. Feel your pulse and remember the beating of hearts across the world, in all creatures, in a primal rhythm of love.
  • One morning this week, go for a contemplative walk. Bring yourself fully present to each step and listen for what is shimmering in creation around you. Allow God to speak to your heart through leaves and stones and receive their invitation.
  • If you attend a church service, imagine during the liturgy that you are joining in with the passionate song of all creation.

Invitation to Lectio Divina: Thomas Merton on Silence

button-lectioWith December we offer a new invitation for contemplation. We are returning to a monthly focus on our Monk Manifesto themes. Our focus for this month is Silence. The month of December can be busy and full of noise. And so it is all the more important to take special care to cultivate true silence.

I invite you into a lectio divina practice with some words from Thomas Merton's Thoughts in Solitude.

How Community Lectio Divina works:

Each 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).

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.

Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is in all. — Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton

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 2600 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.

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: Alicia Dykstra

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Alicia Dykstra's wisdom on the gifts of being a "grazer":


People often say you are what you eat. I never took that too literally, but at one point it occurred to me that the saying is true at many different levels. As a monk in the world we are called to pay attention, so I thought this all through some more and tried to figure out what God was trying to tell me.

I love to graze and nibble snacks all day and rather have a smorgasbord than a ready assembled meal. I’m never satisfied with just three square meals a day, but need little snacks often.

Alicia Dykstra quiltThis is true for my quilt work as well. I love collecting bundles of fat quarters or sweet sixteens and put them together in a quilt. My quilting friends will hand me a stack of scraps and say: “You do something with it”.

My taste in books is the same, it’s very eclectic and deals with all kinds of topics and with the E reader I can switch books after a chapter or two if I get bored of one or need a break.

My education is again very wide and diverse and I consider myself a Jill of all trades and master of not too many. I just love learning new things and if something piques my interest I will google it and collect articles and books about the topic or take a class to learn more.

It also affects my travel style. I like to visit different places every time and meet different people and different cultures and food. I will get the travel guides out and check all the places of interest to visit and learn a few basic phrases in the local language.

What does this all say about my spiritual life then? Am I satisfied with following one God and how do I exercise my faith?

The answer to the question is a full hearted “yes!” I do believe there is only one God and my grazing side is satisfied in the Trinitarian believe of Father, Son and Spirit. God is the same in character all the time, but reveals himself in so many different ways. And it is a sport to find where and how he reveals himself to me and in totally different ways to other people.

I don’t call myself Reformed or Catholic or Baptist, even though I was raised and attend in these traditions. I believe in unity, but not sameness. That’s what I love about quilting too. You create a unified whole by putting hundreds of different pieces together. God created this world with so much diversity and I believe we are a true representation as the universal church (although our diversity has been and is often used by the Enemy to tear us apart and it is very confusing to explain to new believers).

My dissatisfaction can become a curse and drive the people around me crazy. I can’t sit still for too long or with nothing for my hands to do. As you can imagine I’m a do-er and have a hard time learning to be a “be-ing”. On the other hand I think it’s also a gift.

God did create all of us differently for a reason. My grazing personality forces me to stay open and look for connections. It fuels my creativity to find ways to “do” faith in a way that fits my personality and not feel guilty about it. There is not only one way to be a follower of Christ or to worship God. The psalmist tells us to “taste and see” what God is doing and it has helped me to taste and see God in so many different ways and not to get stuck in a “right” or “wrong” way of doing life.

God and Faith often seem a paradox and that can be scary, but it is so true. As much as I like to graze, I also need to be rooted somewhere. Benedict calls us to stability and as a being on the move all the time I wondered about roots in my life. God called me as a mover but gave me a secure home base both in faith and family. My greatest joy is to show that God is different from what you expect him to be and that he shows up in the most unexpected places. Life is one big puzzle and we don’t need to have all the answers. I trust God to have the big picture and so I graze and collect in the hope that one day the complete picture will be revealed and I hope to inspire the people around me that there are different ways of living out our faith and to encourage them to seek and worship God in a diverse community.

Alicia DykstraAlicia Dykstra has been married to Terry for 30 years and is the mother of three young adults who move in and out of the house. She was born in the Netherlands but has been living in view of the Rocky Mountains in Calgary, Canada for almost 25 years. She loves learning, eating, travelling, reading, quilting and making new connections.

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