Invitation to Community Lectio Divina: Kinship with Creation – How might you nourish an Earth-cherishing consciousness?

button-lectioWith March we offer a new invitation for contemplation. Our focus for this month is Kinship with Creation. We are continuing our monthly exploration of each theme of the Monk Manifesto. Our focus for this month is Kinship with Creation — How might you nourish an Earth-cherishing consciousness? The fourth principle reads:

I commit to cultivating awareness of my kinship with creation and a healthy asceticism by discerning my use of energy and things, letting go of what does not help nature to flourish.

We invite you into a lectio divina practice with some words from Psalm 104 (see below).

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.

You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
The trees of God are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that God planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the conveys.
You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.

— Psalm 104:14-19

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 2900 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: Dianne Jones

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Dianne Jones' wisdom on living as a monk in the world:

Stop Breathe Believe – A Beginning to a New Way of Being

Several years ago I began PrairieFire, a three-year program of spiritual formation, to learn to walk alongside others in the process of slowing down and discovering the heart of their spirituality.  My classmates and I often called ourselves the Monkettes.  We learned together, we cried together, we dared greatly together, we shared deeply with one another, we listened to one another and we listened to God.

In the final year of the program I was in the beginning processes of giving birth to a book based on a practice I used as an individual and couple’s therapist.  I had developed the practice when I was struggling with my own thinking – struggling with my own path, struggling with some major decisions regarding my career.  I often give credit to the Monkettes as being the midwives, along with many others, of the book.

dianne jones 1The practice of Stop Breathe Believe® is a practice that will help you first become aware of your thoughts, and then harness the power to allow in only the thoughts that help you on the journey to wholehearted living, while gently, without judgment, turning away the thoughts that impede you.

Stop Breathe Believe, like any new skill, takes practice, but you will get better at it, and the more adept you are at implementing it as a practice in your daily life, the more effective it is.  With healthy patterns of thinking, you get healthy patterns of being.

Stop: At a predetermined cue (like a stoplight) orat a moment you find yourself struggling, stopwhat you’re doing and become aware of what you’re thinking.  You may even want to say the words aloud, using your name: “Stop, Brenda;” or “Stop, Stephen.”  Speak to yourself with kindness but firmness.  Now, notice what’s going on in your mind.  Whatever thought you find—and believe me, it could be anything!—simply become aware of it.  Just recognize it, and note it without judgment.  In keeping with the stoplight metaphor, if your thought is a green, life-affirming thought, take a moment to be grateful!  If it’s a “red” or life-draining thought, move on to Breathe.

Breathe: As you’re able, change your physical position. Sit up straight so as to be able to make use of your lungs’ maximum capacity.  Now, breathe in slowly through the nose for a count of four, and then at the top of the breath, exhale through the mouth for a count of eight. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to relax the body—your heart rate slows, your respiratory rate slows, your muscles loosen.  With each exhalation, you’ll feel your mind and your body begin to relax.  Even if it’s for just a moment, you’re redirecting your attention away from the negative thought you noticed during Stop.  You can rest and recharge in the Breathe portion of Stop Breathe Believe as long as you like.

Believe: When you feel ready, start to create a belief statement that truthfully addresses the thought you observed during Stop.  Let’s say that the thought you became aware of was “I’m such an idiot for losing my temper.”  An effective belief statement could be: “I’m so human.”  Or: “I’m learning a new process that will help.”  Or: “Anger does not define who I am.”  Whatever your belief statement, it’s the stepping-stone to get you through the next obstacle.  You can use your belief statement in the midst of a tense situation, or as an anchor throughout the day.

Through the process of Stop Breathe Believe you can stop the endless stream of thoughts and become awareof one thought that needs replacing, breathe your way to a state of calm openness, and then believe a unique truth statement of your own creation that brings release from the unhealthy thought that’s hindering you.

Stop Breathe Believe is a contemplative practice that can be essential during times of struggle and heartache.  It can also help in the day to day events that cause us stress: an overburdened schedule, the difficult conversations we all face from time to time, the running late to an appointment, the miscalculation of the budget for the month. Each day offers an opportunity to practice beginning again – and reflecting in a calm way on how you want to relate to and respond to the world around you.

This blog post is adapted from STOP BREATHE BELIEVE:  Mindful Living One Thought At A Time © Stop Breathe Believe, LLC.


dianne jonesDianne Morris Jones is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator – Consultant (CDWF-C), a Laughter Yoga Instructor, has training in Spiritual Direction and the Enneagram, and author of STOP BREATHE BELIEVE:  Mindful Living One Thought At A Time.  She practices at Family Legacy Counseling in Des Moines, Iowa.

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

Invitation to Dance: Community – Who is your tribe?

button-danceWe continue our theme this month of "Community — Who is your tribe?" which arose from our Community Lectio Divina practice with the story from the Third Principle of the Monk Manifesto and continued with this month's Photo Party and Poetry Party.

I invite you into a movement practice.  Allow yourself just 5 minutes this day to pause and listen and savor what arises.

  • Begin with a full minute of slow and deep breathing.  Let your breath bring your awareness down into your body.  When thoughts come up, just let them go and return to your breath. Hold this question of "Who is my tribe?" as the gentlest of intentions, planting a seed as you prepare to step into the dance.
  • Play the piece of music below (Ravel's "Bolero" performed live, outdoors in Algemesí City, Spain) and let your body move in response, without needing to guide the movements. Listen to how your body wants to move through space in response to your breath. Remember that this is a prayer, an act of deep listening. Pause at any time and rest in stillness again. As more instruments are added to the song, see what arises in your own imagination about your community.
  • After the music has finished, sit for another minute in silence, connecting again to your breath. Just notice your energy and any images rising up.
  • Is there a word or image that could express what you encountered in this time? (You can share about your experience, or even just a single word in the comments section below or join our Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group and post there.)
  • If you have time, spend another five minutes journaling in a free-writing form, just to give some space for what you are discovering.
  • To extend this practice, sit longer in the silence before and after and feel free to play the song through a second time. Often repetition brings a new depth.

 

Monk in the World guest post: Lance Baker

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Lance Baker's reflections about cultivation as a metaphor for our spiritual life and practice:

A Life of Cultivation

A certain form of existential paralysis has shadowed my inner life in the past. I’ve had so many questions, dreams, longings, and have been exposed to a range of paradigm-shifting experiences in a relatively short period of time. As a result, I spent a number of years paralyzed by indecision and lacked discernment on how to operate the world with meaning, purpose, and authenticity. I felt like I could become anyone, go anywhere, engage in any of the numerous societal ills, learn any skill, etc. What I wasn’t spending much time reflecting on, however, was how God had already uniquely created me to be in the world. Of course I can always learn and grow, but in the past couple years I’ve been learning to ask questions like: Who am I already? How can I operate in a way that allows my own individuality to become a gift to myself and others rather than always thinking about who I want to become?

In Dennis, Shelia, and Matthew Linn’s book, “Healing the Purpose of Your Life” they talk about the importance of finding one’s “sealed orders.” Sealed orders are the special word(s) or phrase that perfectly sums up your distinct, God-infused, way of giving and receiving love—your unique way of being in the world. At this moment, the best way I've found to describe my life, my sealed orders, and what it means for me to be a monk in the world is to be a cultivator. Lance—the cultivator.

Lance - 1My wife and I lived on an organic farm for a few months after returning to the U.S. after two-years living in Vietnam. Something that became very apparent to me while working on the farm is that growing vegetables is entirely a work of cultivation. The term “grower” is somewhat amiss because the grower can only prepare the soil, plant the seeds, prune, thin, and tend to weeds. It is the somewhat mysterious work of the genetic material within the seeds, the sun, water, and creative work of God that do the actual growing. Being a monk in the world is all about maintaining this mode of cultivation for me.

I know that I cannot become more Christlike by my own efforts. I can only cultivate the soil, plant seeds, and tend to the weeds. This preparatory work and cultivation allows God to do the actual work and mysterious transformation in my heart.

A few years ago, I would have shied away from the prospect of leading small groups, writing a blog, or stepping forward as a spiritual director because I thought that I was responsible for the growth in myself and in others. I wouldn’t take that step forward because I never felt like I knew enough or that my skills weren’t polished enough. Now I am able to engage in those areas of ministry and helping relationships because I’ve come to see myself as a cultivator. The best that I can do is to cultivate growth in myself and in others by adding compost, pulling weeds, pruning, fertilizing, plowing, turning the soil, and sowing. What growth takes place after that is up to others and their own distinct relationship with God.

Lance - 2Crop rotation is an essential aspect to organic farming as well. If a particular crop gets planted in the same spot year after year it will eventually deplete the soil of the necessary nutrients and the crop quality may go down overtime. In my spiritual life, if I merely try the same approach over and over again, I tend to get bored, lack new growth, bear less fruit, and become more susceptible environmental threats (bugs and diseases are attracted to the weakest plants first). The variety of spiritual disciplines and and contemplative practices that have been part of the Christian tradition for centuries help me with my own “crop rotation” thus enabling me to remain fresh, attentive, and open to God’s grace in healthful ways.

Spiritual direction has been the biggest form of cultivation in my own life in the past two years. In addition to the value of that relationship is the natural introspection and examination that it invites. The week before my appointment with my director I will start more intensely thinking about what has been going on, what I want to talk about, what my primary questions or concerns are, and what my relationship with God has been like the past month. I need these structures of invitation to keep me accountable and to remind me of my intentions. In his book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton writes, "If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white fence post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution.”

For me, constantly trying something new is key to avoiding falling into a state of decay—and it doesn’t always have to be a “spiritual" practice to cultivate that new. I’ve been learning to play clawhammer banjo for the last three years and I love how it has exposed me to the world of old-time folk music. I recently read Wendy Farley’s book, "The Wounding and Healing of Desire: Weaving Heaven and Earth” in which she draws heavily on the wisdom and truth of old folk songs and the way they so poignantly communicate the heart of human suffering and desire. Connecting the dots between my banjo playing, folk songs, desire, and suffering has been enlightening! I’ve also taken up scroll sawing as a hobby. Scroll sawing is a process of making very small and detailed cuts in thin pieces of wood to create intricate designs and patterns. There is something meditative about making these very slow and methodical cuts. It is an exercise in being present in the moment! It is also an interesting metaphor for the spiritual life. We might feel like plain old boards sometimes but there are a host of methodical, thoughtful, and attentive spiritual practices that (just like those scroll saw cuts) can turn plain old boards into unique, beautiful, authentic, and life-giving pieces of work that can become gifts to the world.


Lance BakerLance Baker holds a Bachelors in Philosophy and Religion and recently completed his Masters in Spiritual Formation and Leadership through Spring Arbor University. He hopes to simply be another companion to those who are trying to ask deeper questions and see with increasing clarity. You can find more of his writings on his blog Quiet Pilgrim.

Letting Go During Lent: Seeing Death as our Friend

Regent park

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This is my latest Sacred Seasons column on Patheos, click here to read it there and please share!

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

Today we enter the long desert of the Lenten season. If you participate in a liturgical service, most likely you will be marked with the sign of ashes and the words "from dust you came and to dust you shall return" will echo through the sanctuary space again and again.

St. Benedict writes in his Rule to "keep death daily before your eyes" and Amma Sarah, one of the desert mothers said, “I put my foot out to ascend the ladder, and I place death before my eyes before going up it.”

The word for desert in Greek is eremos and literally means “abandonment” and is the term from which we derive the word “hermit.”  The desert was a place of coming face to face with loneliness and death.  Nothing grows in the desert. Your very existence is, therefore, threatened. In the desert, you can only face up to yourself and to your temptations in life which distract you from a wide-hearted focus on the presence of the sacred in the world.

Death of any kind is rarely a welcome experience.  Even when we witness the mysteries of nature year after year reveal the glories of springtime which emerge from winter's fallow landscape.  We resist death, we try to numb ourselves from life's inevitable stripping away of our "secure" frameworks.  We spend so much energy and money on staying young. But when we turn to face death wide-eyed and fully present, when we feel the fullness of the grief it brings, we also slowly begin to discover the new life awaiting us.

In the desert tradition, death is a friend and companion along the journey.  St Francis of Assisi referred to death as “sister” in his famous poem Canticle of Creation.  Rather than a presence only at the end of our lives, death can become a companion along each step, heightening our awareness of life’s beauty and calling us toward living more fully. Living with Sister Death calls us to greater freedom and responsibility.

Alan Jones describes the desert relationship to death in this way:  “Facing death gives our loving force, clarity, and focus. . . even our despair is to be given up and seen as the ego-grasping device that it really is.  Despair about ourselves and our world is, perhaps, the ego’s last and, therefore, greatest attachment.”

I have been sitting with Jones' words and the invitation to fast during Lent, one of the central practices we are called to take on. The first reading today from the prophet Joel summons us to "return to God with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning."

But the kind of fast drawing me this season isn't leaving behind of treats like chocolate or other pleasures. This season I am being invited to fast from things like "ego-grasping" and noticing when I so desperately want to be in control, and then yielding myself to a greater wisdom than my own.

I am called to fast from being strong and always trying to hold it all together, and instead embrace the profound grace that comes through my vulnerability and tenderness, to allow agreat softening this season.

I am called to fast from anxiety and the endless torrent of thoughts which rise up in my mind to paralyze me with fear of the future, and enter into the radical trust in the abundance at the heart of things, rather than scarcity.

I am called to fast from speed and rushing through my life, causing me to miss the grace shimmering right here in this holy pause.

I am called to fast from multitasking and the destructive energy of inattentiveness to any one thing, so that I get many things done, but none of them well, and none of them nourishing to me. Instead my practice will become a beholding of each thing, each person, each moment.

I am called to fast from endless list-making and too many deadlines, and enter into the quiet and listen for what is ripening and unfolding, what is ready to be born.

I am called to fast from certainty and trust in the great mystery of things.

And then perhaps, I will arrive at Easter and realize those things from which I have fasted I no longer need to take back on again. I will experience a different kind of rising.

I wish you a most blessed Lent dear monks, no matter how you choose to enter into this season. May your fasting help you gain clarity around what is no longer necessary. May your practice become a portal to what is most essential.

Please click here – Sacred Seasons column on Patheos – to "like" it and always grateful when you share on Facebook or Twitter!

If you would like to join in an intentional and soulful journey, please consider our online Lenten retreat on The Soul's Slow Ripening: Monastic Wisdom for Discernment, where we draw on the wisdom of desert, Celtic, and Benedictine tradition to honor our own unfolding. There is a delightful caravan of fellow monks and pilgrims already gathering and there is still room for your beautiful presence with us.

With great and growing love,

Christine

Photo by Christine received in London's Regent Park

Earth Monastery Project: Hospitality Grounds Community Garden

earthmonasteryprojectAbbey of the Arts sponsors a small grant program called the Earth Monastery Project. We began the program in 2014 and so far we have funded six wonderful projects which nourish an earth-cherishing consciousness in our world.

It is exciting to us to see the creativity at work in the world and how dancing monks are offering their gifts on behalf of the earth. Our second round of grants have just completed their cycle so for the next three weeks we are featuring each of their final reports to share with you and inspire you to creative action in your own communities.

The third project we feature is Hospitality Grounds Community Garden, shepherded by Aimee Altizer. Here is an excerpt of her reflection (you can see the whole report below):

The mission of Hospitality Grounds Community Garden is multifaceted, encompassing community building through a greater awareness of our interconnectedness with our neighbors as well as with the marginalized in our community. The community garden challenges the binary that exists between the church and the world. This is a false binary that confines the Divine to the church building and the people there in, and all that is outside the church as belonging to the profane. This binary fails to encompass all of creation as belonging to the Divine, and claiming the sacred in all that exists. This identification keeps humanity from seeing the earth as sacred space.

Hospitality Grounds Community Garden seeks to be a sacred space of radical hospitality, providing opportunities through the gathering of community for people to develop compassion for one another and the earth. There can be no better place than the garden, the root of sustainable life, as the locus from which to understand reconciliation of ourselves, our community and humanity with the earth. Nourishing an earth cherishing consciousness begins with the hospitality of the table. It is in the cultivation, preparation and sharing of abundant harvest that we have the opportunity to discover and explore our interconnectedness with one another and all of creation. The earth as a monastery is the source of spiritual and physical sustenance simply stated – it is putting food on the table.

EMP - aimee 2Through the garden we hope to teach an earth cherishing consciousness, and an awareness of the earth as our primary monastery, understood through compassion – compassion for oneself, our neighbors – those local and global, and for the earth as our present and future home. It is in compassion that we might rediscover the power of story. Humans need story to survive, thrive, and create change – this is one of the great offerings that myth and faith bring to human lives. It is through compassion, which cultivates curiosity, and invites us into the beauty of mystery, that we hear the story of our interconnectedness.

The garden is a creative space; each person's bed is an individual creative project as well as the larger creativity and connection of the gardening community in spatial design, maintenance, and visioning new growth. Hospitality Grounds is a project that brings more earth awareness and spiritual direction to the parish and larger community, by bringing the ministry of the church outside into direct contact with the earth, deconstructing the false binary that exists around sacred space.

EMP - aimee 1The Earth Monastery Grant was used to provide opportunities for gardeners at Hospitality Grounds Community Garden, in Park City, Utah, to discover their own deeper identities & spiritual connection with the earth and in this develop a greater understanding of the interconnectedness of all beings. To expand this work, making it more accessible to future gardeners and individuals contemplating a gardening experience, I worked with the garden committee to design and build a website for Hospitality Grounds Community Garden that fosters a greater connection between the community gardeners and the earth as our primary monastery. In the project development time leading up to the launch of the website I actively worked in the garden with the gardening community, and then led a day retreat designed, with clergy Mother Claudia Giacoma and Deacon Sandra Jones, to invite the gardeners to reflect on & record their gardening experiences through yoga, art & story; writing meditations, prayers and blessings for the cycle of the liturgical gardening season that are now website content.

Visit the Hospitality Grounds website here>>

Click here to read the full report of the project>>

Click here to read more about the Earth Monastery Project and make a donation>>

Invitation to Poetry: Community – Who is your tribe?

Dysert O'Dea

Welcome to Poetry Party #85!

I select an image 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 and link back to this post inviting others to join us).

We began this month with a Community Lectio Divina practice with our reflection on the theme of Community (one of the principles of the Monk Manifesto) and belonging based on a quote by Thomas Merton and followed up with our Photo Party. (You are most welcome to still participate).  We continue this theme in our Poetry Party this month.

The photo above was received at Dysert O'Dea, a monastic ruin in Co Clare, Ireland. It is the doorway over the main church with both human and animal faces carved. How might you express the tribe which supports you in a poem?

You can post your poem either in the comment section below*or you can join our Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group (with almost 3000 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.

Body-Words of Love (Reprise and a bonus love note)

This is another offering from the Abbey archives, written three years ago for my Patheos column, I edited the opening slightly and offer it here to you as a love note for Valentine's:

Listen, whatever it is you try
to do with your life, nothing will ever dazzle you
like the dreams of your body,
its spirit
longing to fly while the dead-weight bones
toss their dark mane and hurry
back into the fields of glittering fire
where everything,
even the great whale,
throbs with song. —
Mary Oliver, from "Humpbacks"

IMG_1379266170004About three years ago, before moving to Ireland, I completed a training to teach yoga. I began the program because I had practiced yoga for many years and longed to dive more deeply into it. I expected to fall in love with my own body even more in the process; what I didn't expect was how much I would fall in love with other people's bodies as well. As I walked around the studio and students are in their various poses I see the incredible variety in body types, shapes, sizes, flexibility, and bone structure. My training involves hands-on adjustments, which are less about "fixing" a pose and more about either offering a deeper experience of it or providing a sense of loving presence with a student through a shoulder rub or simply laying my hands on their back.

When students are in savasana, or corpse pose, which is always the final pose in any physical yoga practice, I go around and place my hands gently on their heads one at a time and I offer silent blessings for them and their bodies. I don't know most of their stories so I ask for healing in whatever is keeping them from being fully alive and fully present to their beautiful physical selves.

When I was twenty-one, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a degenerative auto-immune illness. The only other person in my life I knew with this disease was my mother and it had ravaged her body. I was devastated. I felt deeply betrayed by my body. In an auto-immune illness the immune system begins to attack its own tissue. Six years later I had to take a year off from work and go on disability because of the pain and inflammation. That was the year I first walked into a yoga class and was one of the paths I took back to loving my body.

Sexuality isn't just about our sexual relationships with another person, but about our capacity to engage in intimacy with the world through our physicality. Theologian James Nelson writes:

Our human sexuality is a language as we are both called and given permission to become body-words of love. Indeed our sexuality—in its fullest and richest sense—is both the physiological and psychological grounding of our capacity to love.

Body-words of love. That phrase takes my breath away. How do I allow my very body to become the fullest expression of love and tenderness in the world? This body with its aches and its loveliness. This body that has experienced searing pain. This body that will one day become dust, but also sprang from my mother in a burst of desire for life.

In all the attention we give to the perfection of the body in our culture, we undermine our capacity to become body-words of love. We forget that we are called to both the joy and the sorrow woven together. No surgery can excise our mortality. No procedure can remind us of our sheer giftedness, gift given to each other. The effect of our obsessions with our bodies is that we grow in our distrust of our physical selves.

We are not offered ways to be with our bodies in the full range of their glorious beings—the joys, delights, pain, and disappointments. We are not encouraged to trust our bodies in this culture, for they forever need improving. We can buy an endless variety of products and programs geared solely at responding to the message that our bodies are somehow not good enough, not beautiful enough, or not wise enough on their own.

Last week I had a dream where I went to the doctor and discovered I was pregnant. But the doctor told me that I wasn't nourishing myself enough to sustain the pregnancy. I awoke thinking of Mary Oliver's words above: "nothing will ever dazzle you / like the dreams of your body." I am dazzled by this invitation from my body to be even more nourishing and loving than I already am. I take the invitation very seriously. I began immediately to ponder ways I could offer my body the deepest kind of nourishment in tangible ways.

The dreams of my body are about breathing so deeply that every cell expands and shimmers; they are about resting into a generous multiplicity of sabbath moments each day, of swimming through warm and buoyant water, walking through a thick grove of trees, feeling wind across my skin, experiencing the fire of my passions kindling within. My body is dreaming of space for all of these and for the yet unknown dreams, the ones that pulse deep within me and with time and space will emerge in their own beauty and power. Our bodies long to be in intimacy with the world around us.

Valentine's Day is that highly commercialized holiday of chocolates, flowers, and Hallmark cards. In many ways it has become another way to mark how inadequate we feel about ourselves if we are without a partner, or about our relationships and how to express love if we are partnered.

February 14th does offer us another invitation, however—to consider the call to become "body-words of love."

I understand this invitation as beginning with myself and then allowing that felt love of my own body to radiate out into the world and offer loving presence to others.

How many of us treat our bodies with the lavish attention they deserve? What does it mean to treat our bodies like the temples they really are? What is the damage caused by the endless messages we receive each day about our bodies' inadequacies? What if for one day we could put to rest the damaging stories we tell ourselves about how our bodies don't measure up? What if we could bring our full presence to our bodies' needs instead of endlessly ignoring them?

St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), an orthodox monk who later became an Archbishop, upheld the doctrine that the human body played an important part in prayer rooted in the Incarnation; that is, the whole person, united in body and soul, was created in the image of God, and Christ, by taking a human body at the Incarnation, has "made the flesh an inexhaustible source of sanctification."

I am in love with this image: What if our bodies truly were an "inexhaustible source of sanctification" and we treated them as such? To sanctify is to bless or make holy, to set apart for sacred use. To consider our bodies a blessing is another way to become "body-words of love."

This Valentine's write a love letter to your body, offering both gratitude and forgiveness. Instead of using words, offer it in food, in warmth, in touch.

The body loves slowness. Instead of rushing from place to place until you crash into bed exhausted, allow holy pauses to breathe deeply, take a long bath as an act of offering, lavish yourself with oil. Prepare a nourishing meal for just yourself. Eat chocolate, but make sure it is the deepest, darkest, richest kind you can find and eat it with as much attention as you can summon. Make an appointment for a massage and receive some loving touch imagining that you are being anointed for blessing others. The senses are the gateway into the body's wisdom.

Body Examen Prayer
The Examen prayer was created by St. Ignatius of Loyola and invites us to reflect on our day and focus on two essential questions: where did I experience desolation and consolation? I have adapted the prayer here as a meditation on the body. Consider taking this on as a daily practice for the rest of February or perhaps for the season of Lent

Allow some time to settle into silence and draw your breath down into your body. See if with each inhale you can imagine receiving the gift of life breath sustaining you each moment. With each exhale, imagine you are releasing all the thoughts and judgments that take you away from your body. Then bring your breath to any places of holding or tightness.

From a place of stillness, reflect on this past day. Ask yourself, when today did I experience pain in my body? When today did I neglect or abuse my body? Notice what memory stirs and be with it with compassion and gentleness, allowing space for this experience. Breathe in the possibility of forgiveness, breathe out release.

Then ask yourself, when have I experienced joy in my body? When did I deeply honor and nourish my body? Again notice what memory stirs and sit with it, savoring this moment, entering into it fully again with your body. Breathe in love, breathe out gratitude.

When your prayer feels complete for this day allow some time to journal and notice what memories and experiences stirred for you. Keeping track of these over time will reveal patterns for you that can help foster greater freedom.

Join our community for a soul-nourishing online retreat for Lent:

The Soul's Slow Ripening: Monastic Wisdom for Discernment begins this Wednesday!

Monk in the World guest post: Kate Kennington Steer

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Kate Kennington Steer's wisdom on living as a monk in the world through illness:

powerlessness and infinite possibility

What if we knew that within our very cells is a God-given energy,
a source of light that possesses the secret of God's beautiful and complex design?
(Paula D'Arcy)

IKKS 1n 2008, when I was experiencing acute depression, I was sitting in a group therapy session attempting to describe how I felt. Getting to these sessions early in the morning was a huge trial for me and my carer, and that morning I was feeling particularly physically weak and feeble. 'I feel so powerless', I was beginning to say, when the therapist interrupted my meandering sentence. 'You feel powerless because you are powerless.' I distinctly remember feeling gobsmacked at this, shocked that a therapist would intervene in that way, and doubly shocked that he wouldn't say something along the lines of 'you have the power to come through this', in other words something empowering. To be told bluntly and publicly how powerless I was meant that it became a fact, not just a feeling rattling in ever decreasing circles around my head.

It was now 'out there'. And I had to confront it.

Six years on I am still confronting it, pretty much on a daily basis. But what has shifted dramatically is that the 'confrontation' now takes the form of practising radical acceptance.

'I am where I am' is such a simple sentence. But behind it lies all the stories I tell myself about how I got here, and all the daydreams I have about how I might move on from here. Practicing radical acceptance means letting go of those scripts. That scares the living day lights out of me, because I've become very good at creating them. (I suppose that is just one of the meanings of 'the fear of the LORD is the beginning of Wisdom'?) Accepting my present moment means sometimes I can get myself out of the way long enough to hear the Presence whisper their power to me. Accepting my present moment means I hear, feel and begin to see my own breath, and how it connects me with the air, the essence of Life itself, all around me; and so with all those who breathe from the same Source. Accepting my present moment means 'I say You are my God: my times are in Your hands'. And as I wait in the present I sometimes can gain a glimpse of eternity, and sense that my present is timeless and full of infinite possibility.

KKS 2

It is the wonder of this that connects me with the camera in my hand, knowing despite whatever technical learning I have, I am powerless to take a 'good' picture. What contemplative photography reminds me of is what I already have deep knowledge of in my heart, though I could never do it justice in this form of language: that every image which sings to my heart does so because it is a gift I received, not an object I took. Every time I attempt to control a time of photography, getting irritated with running out of energy, becoming cross that I've 'failed to capture' what it was I thought I saw, or enraged by the fact my memory won't hold onto settings and which button does what; whenever, wherever this happens, no matter how fleetingly beautiful the light that will pass any moment and I will have 'missed' it, it is time to Stop.

Breathe.

Listen to my yearning.

And lift up, yet again once more, the me of the present moment.

And let the light just go if it will.

KKS 3

This year, because of physical weakness and because I have been unable to live in my own home because of damp, the themes of powerlessness, control, acceptance and surrender have been a constant given in all my reflection and contemplation. The gift of the year has been that although most of the time I have been too physically weak to lift my DSLR, my IPhone has revealed itself to be a receiver of beauty in its own right. All the images that accompany this post are IPhone images. So from my sick room, this abundant array of glimpses into eternity have been given. I just find that amazing and humbling. How much I have yet to learn of the ways of God…

I am not saintly enough where I can say along with Teresa of Avila 'I welcome these wounds' in order to learn these lessons, but I'm certainly on a journey of Revelation with the God of and in all beings.

I am powerless. But I am part of the One whose power is infinite. Therefore all is possible: 'nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith'.

All this can be accepted in this present moment.

I am free to Live, free to See, if only I will accept the invitation.

KKS 4

Having opened our eyes to the deifying light, let us hear with awestruck ears
what the divine voice exclaims…

(Verse 9 of the Prologue to Saint Benedict's Rule)


KKSKate Kennington Steer is a writer and photographer with a deep abiding passion for contemplative photography and spirituality. She writes about these things on her shot at ten paces blog.

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

Love and Hospitality (a love note from your online Abbess)

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For the next few weeks I will be offering you some gems from the Abbey archives as I create the space I need to finish several writing projects and prepare for spring's teaching. With Valentine's Day (and Ash Wednesday next week!) approaching, I offer you this love note from last February:

Dearest dancing monks,

A few days ago I received an email from a woman who is writing her dissertation and asked me to respond to the question: "If you had to choose one spiritual practice that is a non-negotiable for spiritual growth in the 21st century, what would it be and why?" My answer was supposed to be short and succinct.

Here was my reply: "I would choose hospitality, both inner and outer, because I believe the welcoming in all of the exiled pieces of ourselves to be essential for the healing of the world." Of course, it is one of the principles of the Monk Manifesto, and feels like a necessary gateway to silence or hesychia, which the ancient desert monks described as a deep inner stillness.

As I was thinking about writing this love note, I realized Saturday is Valentine's Day, which for many of us is a holiday which only serves to make us feel inadequate, as all highly commercialized things do. And yet the message of love is worth repeating if we can look beneath the chocolate hearts and flowers and the expectation that we all be in a significant relationship or be lacking.

When I read the question posed above, I did not hesitate in my response, because I find that this is the heart of our work – creating a safe space where monks can begin welcoming back in the stranger within and in the process discover the hidden wholeness of which Thomas Merton wrote. Over the years, I have come to realize, that more than anything else I do, this work of healing is most essential. The Abbey, too, strives to be a safe place where a diversity of people with a wide range of beliefs and convictions can gather. I love that people show up each with their own longings.

Last week I shared that I was feeling under the weather. I pulled back from as much activity as I could and allowed myself some space to cocoon. I trusted my body's longings and in the process I am feeling better physically, but also some important spiritual shifts are happening that needed the space of quiet to unfold. This trust is an act of great love toward myself. Rather than pushing through, I made the choice to welcome and yield.

The same happens when we consider the parts of ourselves that feel less desirable, the parts we resist. Maybe there is a deep loneliness as this holiday of roses and Hallmark approaches. What would it be like to welcome in that lonely part of yourself and to love him, to trust that she has a place in you? Maybe there is self-judgment and criticism that you try to push away. What would it be like to make space to sit with these difficult parts with compassion and listen to what they really want to tell you? This would be a generous act of loving.

This radical hospitality is a lifelong journey. We are always discovering new aspects of our inner world which we reject or resist and need love and care. And in the process of welcoming them in, we perhaps begin to discover that others don't annoy us quite so much. As we grow more intimate with our own places of exile and woundedness, we discover a deep well of compassion for the strangeness of others. As we come to know our own compulsions and places of grasping, we can offer more love to those in our lives struggling with addictions and other places where freedom has been lost.

For the last few months I have signed this love note "With great and growing love" but never explained the choice I made. I started after finding some old letters written by my mother and father to one another in the early days of their marriage. I had forgotten that one of their terms of endearment for one another was "GGL" which stood for "great and growing love." These missives all began and ended with those three letters.

Even though my parents' wounds eventually led them to separation and my father to rejecting much of the love offered to him toward the end of his life, I still treasure this image. I cherish knowing that there was this sense of love abiding between them, growing slowly. Rather than feeling despair or cynicism, I actually feel a great tenderness to know of all the places love plants her seeds.

I love each of you, my dear monks, I don't think the intensity of this work is sustainable without that kind of love. I love your seeking hearts. I love your desire to find a more compassionate way to be in this life and on this earth.

As I continue to offer love to myself through acts of trust in my body's wisdom and welcoming in the less flattering parts of myself, the love grows.

My beloved John will often say "I love you more," and I respond by asking "More than what?" And his reply is "more than yesterday." We have been blessed with 22 years of growing love.

My invitation to you, as Valentine's Day approaches, is to consider whether your love for your own beautiful self grows each day, knowing that there will be days of such self-disdain it might not be possible, and then you welcome in that small and wounded place and discover a hidden fountain of love beneath. Once we begin welcoming in the places we resist, we find that the deep peace of silence can be ours.

This week, let your prayer be "welcome" to every stranger arriving at the inner door and an act of trust in the wholeness that you are.

And know of my love for you, which is always growing.

With great and growing love,

Christine