Guest Post on Hildegard of Bingen: Megan Hoyt

Megan Hoyt has recently published, Hildegard’s Gift, a children's book about Hildegard of Bingen (whose feast day is September 17th and is, of course, one of our dancing monks!) Here Megan offers a few reflections on the impact of Hildegard for her:

hildegard-s-gift-14I first "met" St. Hildegard of Bingen when a friend shared her chants with me over a quiet cup of tea, during a lull in our conversation. I was a lover of all things Medieval, and my friend knew this about me. She must have known the lilting tones and haunting melody would catch me off guard. I held my breath for a moment. I tend to get emotionally involved with the composers I study, having been raised by symphony musicians and on a steady diet of classical music. But this was different. Hildegard's melodies were sad and humble and maybe even a little vulnerable. Who was this nun and mystic named Hildegard? I had to know.

My search began online and moved to books, music cds and youtube videos. It was a somewhat sacred quest. I knew almost immediately that I wanted to write about this saintly woman who connected with God so easily. Some seemed to believe she wasn't really "in tune" with God, that she was only reacting to migraines and seizures. Was she epileptic or did she really see visions from God? I don't have a clear answer on that, but when we dig in and research her life and body of work it seems clear that whatever the reason, she was tuned in spiritually in ways I had not yet experienced in my own life, in ways I WANTED to experience.

Hildegard believed God spoke to her directly, through visions and voices. And He spoke to her regularly, sharing His view of the world around her — prompting her to stand against a multitude of wrongs being committed by popes and priests, to create beautiful images and music, to come up with complex herbal remedies for ailments that previously had no cure. What a truly remarkable woman. When I think of her, I’m drawn to this verse:

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29)

Hildegard of Bingen believed wholeheartedly in this vision of God as an all-consuming fire, whether it was because of her childhood spent in isolation as an anchoress in Germany or the hours upon hours she spent in prayer. She was definitely consumed by God as one is fully and completely immersed in the Holy Spirit and utterly overwhelmed by Spirit itself. May we all endeavor to see Christ as she did, as the lover of our souls, the Creator of the Universe, the fulfillment of all that is worthwhile in life.

Megan HoytMegan Hoyt is the author of Hildegard’s Gift, a vibrant, colorful picture book for children of all ages, available now through Paraclete Press.

Invitation to Photography: Harvesting the Inner Garden

Welcome to this month's Abbey Photo Party!

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

We began this month with a Community Lectio Divina practice with our reflection on the harvest in the Parable from the Gospel of Mark.

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 canresize 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: Carol Studenka

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

Can I really call myself a monk in the world? Surprisingly the answer is yes?

Over the last few years, I have had many changes in my life. Among them has been finding my way to including meditation practice in my daily life. What began seven years ago as a ten minute a day practice, has now become a practice that is integrally woven into every thing I do, including writing this essay.

The question of How do I live as a monk in the world is an intriguing one. I would never have defined myself as a monk in anyway. I am quite worldly as a matter a fact. I drink. I smoke on occasion. I love sloth. In general I indulge in what the world has to offer. The world itself is a moveable feast as Hemingway once put it.

Recently though while being involved in a Meditation Teacher Training Program at the McLean Meditation Institute, I was required to read a book by Marsha Sinetar, Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics. My first thoughts on seeing the title of the book was that I would in no way qualify for either of these parts. My life was not dedicated to God or a Divine Source, but was dedicated to finding the best of my self, feeling at home in my own skin. In no way could I see how these two ideas might be connected.

In her book Sinetar defines the Universal Monk as “one who learns to listen to internal voice of discontent…their newly structured lives force them into intimate and growing relationships with their inner voice…listening is not usually possible in a distracting world.”

As I read this, I realized meditation practice had put me in this exact position. So did daily meditation make me a monk? I wasn't quite ready yet to say yes.

Further on in the book Sinetar brings up the idea of a secular monk. This seemed more in line with my visions. She states the secular monk is driven by an inner call. One that leads to a life that endeavors to penetrate the inner truths of life. These questions were already a part of my meditation practice…who am I, why am I here, what is my heart's desire, how can I serve.

These questions, these truths began to show themselves more frequently in my daily life.

Who am I? I see the beautiful scenery in which I am fortunate to live. How can I not see God in the mountains or the moody way the clouds can settle in to their nook and crannies? I am a part of this world. I am a part of the divine. I am infused with love. And I am grateful.

And so it goes. Why am I here? I go to the grocery store and let the woman who is holding a few groceries, but has worked all day to go in front of me. I am retired and have the gift of time. I am a monk in the world.

I answer an email to one of our Meditation Teachers in Training. I have listened to her. She has shared a joy or a sorrow with me. I am here to be her connection. I am a monk in the world.

Can I prove this in any way? Not really.

Can I tell you how obstacles in my life now melt away? Can I tell you I ask and receive? I can. Still it is not stories of magical happenings, it's really all little things. I have a thought about needing money. As in meditation, I let go of the desire and just connect with the love, with the Divine. Suddenly a few days later, a check in the mail.

What is my heart's desire? To know at my deepest core that I am divine love radiating in the world.

How can I serve? To be love and joy and a source of light in the world.

Too much…Maybe…But for me, it has given me a way. I am a monk living an ordinary life in my own quiet way..which is of course why I so much love the title of the group here too..Life is a holy disorder and I go out into my daily ordinary life sprinkling a little of the connections, sharing my love of meditation with anyone who will listen, and always, always dancing with the Divine Love and Joy found within my soul.

Carol StudenkaMy life-long passion is teaching people to find the key to unlock their own door. For me meditation is that key. After 30 years of teaching in Detroit, I now live and work in Sedona, AZ for the McLean Meditation Institute as a program assistant for the Meditation Teacher Training Program.

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

The Wisdom of Autumn (latest column at Patheos)

Stop by to read my latest Seasons of the Soul column at Patheos on the gifts and wisdom of autumn. If you like this reflection, I would be grateful if you would click the "like" button at the top of the page and share it with your friends via Facebook or Twitter:

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning "no."

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.

We're all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It's in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.

— "Autumn" by Rainer Maria Rilke (translation by Robert Bly)

I always find myself extraordinarily energized by the arrival of fall: the crispness of the air, the slowly growing darkness, the simmering of soup on the stove, and the pulling on of wool sweaters.

I love to witness the great turning of the leaves toward radiance and then release. I have much to learn from trees about living brightly and then letting go at the right moment. I imagine what it must be like for the leaf to break free from the branch and flutter gently down to the earth, or sometimes forced off by gusts of wind. In those moments of falling does the leaf know it will be soon be received on the soft earth and be turned into compost and nourishment? And do I remember in my own moments of falling the trajectory of things?

I think of autumn and winter as the seasons of the monk, with their invitations to release and move into stillness. Our modern culture embraces the energies of spring and summer with their emphasis on perpetual blossoming and fruitfulness. But the entire cycle of creation offers us a wise reminder of what is necessary for the fullness of life. Releasing and resting are integral to the spring being able to arrive again.

Click here to continue reading>>


Invitation to Community Lectio Divina: Mark 4:26-29

With September we return to our monthly invitations for contemplation. Our focus for this month is harvest. In the northern hemisphere it is the season for gathering the fruits of our labors. What are you called to harvest in your own spiritual garden?

I invite you into a lectio divina practice with some words from the Gospel of Mark.

How Community Lectio Divina works:

button-lectioEach month there will be a passage selected from scripture, poetry, or other sacred texts (and occasionallyvisio 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.

He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”  — Mark 4:26-29

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 2200 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.

Abbey Bookshelf: "Prayer in the Cave of the Heart" by Cyprian Consiglio

We are offering the occasional review of some of our favorite books on the contemplative life. This review of Prayer in the Cave of the Heart* by Cyprian Consiglio is written by long-time fellow monk in the world Edith O'Nuallain:

cyprianCyprian Consiglio , a Camaldolese monk, wrote his book Prayer in the Cave of the Heart as an introduction to contemplative prayer. The sub-title says it all,  ‘universal call to contemplation’, a phrase penned by contemplative monk, Fr Bede Griffith, whose life’s work bore witness to the belief that contemplation is available to everyone, not just cloistered monastics. Consiglio believes that eastern traditions can help to invigorate and illuminate aspects of our own spirituality.

Two guiding principles inform the entire book – that the Spirit is already and always indwelling, and that the path to the Spirit is through ‘prayer in the cave of the heart’. We practice meditation and contemplation with the intention of removing all obstacles placed between ourselves and the Divine, who is eternally present to us even when we are not aware.

There are many forms of meditation and contemplative prayer. Consiglio explores a few from Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Orthodox Christianity. The author himself completed his book while staying in a Christian ashram near the Ganges in northern India. Here the monks and nuns base their practice of the Liturgy of the Hours and ‘lectio divina’ around Hindu traditions, including four hour-long periods of silent meditation. Many of the outer elements of their practice are based upon gestures, symbols and chants from Indian spirituality, resulting in a seamless marriage between Christian and Hindu contemplative practice, without either ever collapsing into the other.

While we can never know exactly how Jesus himself prayed, we can deduce that his was an interior form of prayer, evidence for which is suggested by his instructions in Matthew 6:6: “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” In other words, “when you pray, go into your heart.”  Prayer is the way we access the power of the Spirit. Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes us. The Spirit which flows through us, pours out of us in service and love of others.

However, as with all interior work, we must be careful not to become pre-occupied with the self, but rather to seek the Spirit’s dwelling place. Consiglio writes:

We are going through ourselves to get beyond ourselves. The journey is through our own experience, through our own souls, through our griefs, joys and pains, but it is decidedly through them, in the belief that there is something on the other side of them if we don’t get caught up in them.” [p36]

Still everything is to be worked through, as we engage with the unconscious through dream and shadow work, as we follow the

serpentine path into the depths of ourselves.…. if we follow the path right to the end, beyond the merely psychological, we shall finally come to the deepest level of all, the “treasure hidden in the field” of which the gospel speaks – the pure, undifferentiated consciousness, stripped of all that is egoistical and personal, the central core of our nature, where the light of God shines.” [Dom Cyprian Smith, quoted p 37]

This is the same path which is taught by many Hindu and Buddhist traditions, as well as by Christian mystics, a central theme running through this book. He notes that the ‘via negativa’ is a prayer path followed by Zen Buddhists, as well as mystics such as Evagrius of Pontus, the author of the ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’, John of the Cross, and Meister Eckhart. The ‘via negativa’ aims straight for our deepest interior spaces, which is where the Divine dwells within us.

Consiglio explores specific forms of devotional practice, beginning with the practice of continual and ceaseless prayer, which is the ultimate aim of all contemplative practices. Ceaseless praying was taken up by the Desert Ammas and Abbas, eventually developing into what became known as the Liturgy of the Hours – set times of daily prayer: matins, lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers, and compline. But constant prayer is not just found in Christian traditions, as evidenced by the Buddhist recitation of sutras, and the Muslim salaat. In constant prayer we align ourselves with our own deepest centre.

From continual prayer Consiglio moves to ‘pure prayer’, defined as prayer beyond words and images’. It is an apophatic form of prayer, meaning that knowledge of God is impossible; human language can never hope to capture God in its limited concepts. For Consiglio the apophatic tradition

is the roadmap of the journey on which we set out when we meditate, attempting to leave behind all our thoughts about God, and all our images of God…We hope ….to enter within the secret chamber of divine darkness, leaving outside all that can be grasped by sense or reason.” [p59]

Hence we leave behind our ego, our concepts, our limited thinking.

Muslim scholars speak of the “gradual dissipation of the self so that the self is forgotten and God [is] remembered.” Sufism refers to this as ‘fana’, “the annihilation of the self”. Thomas Merton referred to fana as “the nothingness of all that is not God. My prayer is then a kind of praise rising up out of the center of Nothing and Silence.”  It is precisely in the apophatic approach to prayer, in this interior space beyond language, beyond dogma and doctrine, where we discover resonances with other mystical traditions. Monks and contemplatives from all traditions share similar experiences of meditation and contemplation.

In his final chapter Consiglio describes my favourite contemplative practice – ‘lectio divina’, presenting it in the context of everything we have learned in the preceding chapters, emphasising that in lectio we are listening to God’s word through sacred scripture. Chanting psalms in choir then becomes an exercise in proclaiming God’s word to one another. What a wonderful image to carry into liturgical celebrations!

He describes lectio as like “reading a love letter,,,, savouring every single word …… condensing and simplifying” until we are left with a word or short phrase which serves as a remembrance of our prayer time, like “the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field.” It could become our mantra for that day, “a summary of our intention, a tangible reminder of our moment of intimacy with God, like a wedding ring or an amulet worn around the neck”.

Consiglio concludes that “the real goal of all our meditative techniques and methods [is] the transformation of the body and soul by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God.” We reach this nirvana of spiritual enlightenment through the ceaseless practice of unceasing, contemplative prayer. As inheritors of a deeply incarnational religion, Christians are well placed to join their Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim sisters and brothers in contemplative practices which, Consiglio shows, are more often similar than dissimilar in intention and method.

Each chapter concludes with a section on the “Question of Method”, covering such topics as meditation using the breath as a point of focus combined with reciting mantras. Most of the methods presented have their roots in eastern traditions which Consiglio presents from a Christian prespective. In this way he attempts to make real his vision of a new Christianity enlivened by the rich and fertile teachings from other contemplative religions.

Edith Ó Nualláin lives with her family in a small village on the east coast of Ireland, snuggled between the mountains and the sea, where she reads, writes occasional reviews, and spins exotic fibres into yarn. Some day she hopes to learn how to spin straw into the gold.

*when you purchase books at through links provided on our website, we receive a small percentage of the purchase price at no extra cost to you which helps support our Earth Monastery Project.

Monk in the World guest post: Peggy Meisen

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Peggy Meisen's wisdom:

Gray, gray and winter

Monk’s robes, plain and soft from wear

The Ordinary

But then, the Great light,

Presence, Humility, Truth

A transformation

Our lives shimmering

Changing, growing, glistening

A royal banquet


The intimacy of the gaze of God upon us as we choose awareness is incredible. It is like a secret but, a secret open to all. Could there be such a thing?  A secret that is both personal and communal.

In the rest and space of a gray and cold New Year’s Day, we regrouped, plugged in the crock pot and went for a drive. Very few cars were on the gray, two laned roads. It was soothing to take our time, have no interruptions and eventually reach our destination. It was a quieter place, the woods and dirt paths.  We discovered that the winding, wooded paths were lined with the seashore. We found ourselves tucked in somewhere special and new, in somewhat of a secret, a rare find, this place, yet open to all.  It seemed we had the park to ourselves for a while. We walked quietly, taking in nature, happy to be separated from the busyness and chatter of life.

As we walked, two people appeared in the distance, arms extended, hands open and raised.  It was a curious sight, these people posed in synchronicity. Others came from somewhere. They stopped and looked on as well.  Questions shot up in our minds: Are they practicing Tai chi? Praying? Praising? Everyone was frozen in their posture.

We moved closer to get a better view.  As we got closer arms dropped in synchronicity. It seemed that the winter breezes stilled.  The people turned to us, “Would you like some?” They asked.  Skeptically, we moved in even closer to see what was being offered.  Smiling, they held out… birdseed.  Cardinals, sparrows, chickadees and tufted titmouse hovered.  We accepted and before long there were 6 of us. Twelve hands extended. We were waiting, waiting, waiting. As I would look one way, a little bird would quickly swoop in from the other way and land with both feet on my fingertips. He grabbed a seed and flew off.  Again and again we watched as these little beauties watched us from a distance, tested the flight pattern once or twice and then took the plunge to our upturned palms.

What had been dull to me in the past had come alive, richly, quietly and softly.  White sky, leafless trees, little red berries on brown branches, gray, tan, black, all shades of earth were speaking  life to me in the stillness of winter.

A tufted titmouse with beautiful markings alighted. He landed on my hand, my open, seed filled hand. I felt its weight. We were eye to eye.  “What are you saying to me God? There are signs of You, everywhere.  You are the amazing artist who has colored winter in magnificence with shades of the ordinary.”  All of a sudden winter was shimmering all around me. The ordinary was transformed into the extraordinary.  We were on sacred ground.

The park’s literature informed me that this bird’s call sounds like, “Peter, Peter, Peter.”  Peter, is the name of our first child.  Will 2014 be a revisit of what precious Peter came to teach through his very short life so many years ago? I wondered.  The thought was sobering.  In a split second, the little bird was back, looking so small, so complete with his jet black eyes sparkling and his coat colors so perfectly blended. He flitted around, making several takeoffs and landings, perching, eating. All of a sudden, I heard that still small voice.  This New Year’s Day could seem like an anniversary of some goals met, some not, some losses, some gains, some sorrows, some joys, but it too was being transformed.  It had become a celebration of awareness. I was locked into the gaze of God upon me through the experience.

“’I will never leave you, nor forsake you. Fear not.’ You too must use your wings. This year, take a chance. Follow through with your dreams and goals. Enjoy the banquet, come often and enjoy.  It is being held out to you with joy for your path, repeatedly. This day is the mark of a new beginning.  ‘See I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?’ Isaiah 43:19. Rejoice!”

I realized that I too am little. I carry the burdens of others and aim to help but what I hear is purifying.  These little creatures have no worries. They are clothed with distinct, beautiful robes.  The same God that feeds the birds, feeds me. Simplicity, truth, reality were spoken to me through the “birds of the air.”

We had been invited to a New Year celebration, to don a new robe. The robe of the monk in the world is both ordinary and royal at the same time. Its colors are about presence to the moment, compassion, and respect for the daily.  At a glance they appear routine. Yet when dressed in these hues of truth and humility, somehow there’s transformation and life shimmers.  The robe itself, our lives, glistens in the world as bread is broken and shared.

There’s a lightness that returns to me as I remember that I am accepted and loved by the master. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”(Matthew 6:26) I come back to recognizing that what the Lord wants of me is simply,   ”…to act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with your God.”-Micah 6:8.  Something lifts.

As I come around this bend to greater awareness and take a glance back, I notice that what was so visible, what I clung to and carried before, is no longer. The road has taken a turn for sure.   I am certain that I will revisit the path that has taken me to here, again. For now, I am content to accept what the 14th century mystic and poet, Julian of Norwich echoes across the path of time.  Her writings comfort me. She too had to come to terms with the fact that God’s love is all encompassing, freeing.  Love has a way of dissolving blame. The promise is true and sure. God is with us.  Julian of Norwich, a companion on the journey as we too struggle with spiritual dilemmas and come to grips with the fact that we may not have an answer for all the mysteries that exist. In the midst of the search, we can be confident that, “All shall be well and all shall be well.  And all manner of things shall be well.”

The Holy Bible, New International Version c 1978 New York International Bible Society | Julian of Norwich Quotes:

Peggy MeisenPeg is a wife, mother, and grandmother.  She enjoys working as a teacher and spiritual director. Peg and her husband have been longtime members of a spirituality couples group. For more than 30 years she and her family have experienced renewal and restoration through their many fall trips to Weston Priory in Vermont.  The Priory’s Benedictine experience, in harmony with the beauty of the fall landscape has brought balance and more depth to her everyday life.   In her spare time, learning, painting, writing, sharing with family and friends, brings her joy.  She hopes to be a part of the Abbey community and is looking forward to the newness everyday’s call to be a monk in the world.

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

Last chance to register for our online Novena! (starts September 8th!)

We are so delighted to be bringing you this Novena of Resurrection, a nine-day prayer experience with the theme of Earth as Our Original Monastery. To be a monk in the world means to recognize the vibrancy and wisdom of creation for our own spiritual unfolding. Thomas Merton believed the central role of a monk was to attend to the beauty of nature:

How necessary it is for monks to work in the fields, in the rain, in the sun, in the mud, in the clay, in the wind: these are our spiritual directors and our novice-masters. They form our contemplation. They instill us with virtue. They make us as stable as the land we live in. —Thomas Merton

Each of the nine days you receive a reflection by me on the nine themes we are exploring. The reflections are available in written and audio form. There will also be contemplative and creative invitations to practice. My wonderful teaching partner Betsey Beckman will be offering three movement videos with gentle invitations to dance with creation in a variety of ways. Our experience will be hosted in a private Ruzuku website where you can share your experience with your fellow monks.

While the experience is nine days long, you can linger with the materials as long as you need to.


Day 1:    The monk in the world lives the new creation

Day 2:    Nature is the first book of revelation and scripture text

Day 3:    The elements are our soul friends and first spiritual director

Day 4:    The river, mountains, and creatures are canonized as out first Saints

Day 5:    Creation is our first sacred space

Day 6:    Nature is the original icon and primordial sacrament revealing the face of God

Day 7:    The seasons and cycles of creation invite us into the rhythm of the Hours

Day 8:    All creation sings praise to God offering us the original liturgy

Day 9:    Celebrating the wild spirit in creation and in you

Registration and details here>>

If some images and music would help inspire you, remember that "Everything is Holy Now":

Earth Monastery Project – Final reports from the first round!

Abbey of the Arts is delighted to share the results of our first round of grantmaking through the Earth Monastery Project. Last fall we awarded three projects funds to help them serve the community by helping to cultivate an earth-cherishing consciousness.

Rainier Beach Community Garden | Terri Stewart

emp - terri 1We, the youth and chaplains of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition, were so excited to receive the grant to build the Rainier Beach Community Garden! We just harvested the biggest zucchinis I have ever seen! And maybe a few too many were planted. But that is okay because they are being passed out to whoever in the community needs them. Additionally, there is an overflowing plot of strawberries that slowly are being nibbled away at—by real people! Not the bunnies.

After our spring planting, we have completed a fall planting and added four more tons of dirt to our community garden, enabling us to add four more garden boxes. We just planted root vegetables including beets, onions, and vegetables along with some Pacific Northwest staples that grow nearly year round here—green beans and snap peas.

emp - terri 2 webThis garden has become a labor of love for our little community. We reached out to the youth at a transitional home (from incarceration to real life) and have been nurturing the garden along with chaplains and mentor volunteers. The youth have grown to appreciate getting their hands into the soil, seeing things grow (although they don’t want to see any more zucchini for now!), and a renewed understanding of the cycles of life and the rhythm of the earth. Plus they got sneak attack mentoring!

It is one of my goals to provide incarcerated youth with a sense of the rhythm of the earth and with sustainable mentoring. This project was able to take kids away from the concrete jungles of the inner city and the detention environment and let them thrive with mature mentors who worked hand-in-hand with the youth.

emp - terri 3 webThe project and investment from the Earth Monastery Project may be at an end, but this garden will keep on growing—both food and growing youth. True gift.

My appreciation for your generosity is immeasurable!

Thank you.


Terri Stewart

Prairie Oasis (also known as the Mayfield Monarch Waystation) | Rev. Dr. Martha Brunell

Dear Christine, John, & the Wisdom Council,

emp - martha 1This is the first of several parts of our final report.  This report is coming in pieces as a result of weather circumstances and decisions we have made.  When our northern Illinois ground was final thawed out and dried in late May following the rigorous winter of the polar vortex and many rainy spring days, we began the physical preparations for our Monarch Waystation.  In a more normal winter the plastic would have been laid months earlier.  That was impossible this year.  Also, we did not want to utilize massive amounts of chemicals on the ground.  Instead we chose to cover the huge spiral of ground with heavy black plastic using a slower, more organic method.  Four of us were the plastic people checking and refining our design as we went along.  We’ve had to learn to work with the wind this summer.  Prairie wind is legendary.  The amount of materials needed to keep the plastic in place over the months has been incredible.  The presence of the plastic throughout the summer has provided congregation members and visitors opportunities to participate in the long waiting time, imagining what it will look like in the fall and in future years. The plastic will be down until the second week in August.  When the plastic comes up, the ground will be mulched with a 3-4” layer of mulch.  Our initial planting will occur in September.

emp - martha 2The final July task is the unloading of two wagonloads of donated mulch.  This is about half of the mulch we will need.  The first mulch arrived on Monday, July 28.  Ten of us were involved in the transport and unloading of that mulch.  The second load comes tomorrow, and a similar mulching crew will assemble.  Already the number of people whose hands are on the Monarch Waystation is growing.  The donated mulch is from an area pallet business where one of our members works.  When a wooden pallet is worn out, it is recycled as mulch.  This particular mulch is treated with a vegetable-based product. Like the decision to use the plastic rather than chemicals, this mulch is another earth-conscious part of our process.  Five Monarchs swirled above us in the air at our first mulch unloading.  That number is more monarchs than I saw all last summer.  We imagined they were keeping track of our progress and reporting in to others that this waystation was really getting started.

emp - martha 3I write two blogs, my personal blog,, and the pastor’s blog at  Over the course of the spring and summer, I have written six blogs on these two sites regarding the Monarch Waystation. They have addressed topics as varied as the eco-justice aspect of the waystation, our experience of spirit in the mighty prairie wind, the act of waiting, the plastic as a teacher of the necessary clearing away that proceeds our new growth, and the waystation as an example of oasis. These are the beginnings of more substantial spiritual and educational work that will undergird future programming at our waystation.  Peggy Doty, one of our Team Butterfly members, will be offering a waystation program with the Mayfield Fellowship in August.  We are scheduled to host the spring 2015 meeting of forty United Churches of Christ around the Monarch Waystation.  By then the waystation should be starting to mature.  That program will draw on the Monarchs, Milkweed, Metamorphosis, and Migration interlocking themes I mentioned in the mid-grant report.

August will be the time for mulching the waystation and making final decisions about plants and shrubs being donated and purchased for September’s planting.  Team Butterfly will determine if there are other financial resources we need for this year and engage in preliminary financial planning for future years’ development and maintenance of our Monarch Waystation.  We will send you part two of our final report with pictures and an accounting of how all the grant funds were spent.

In September we will plant.  We will also be holding a public dedication of the waystation to which the larger community will be invited.  The other important items of conversation for Team Butterfly at this point will be 2015 planting and how we are going to encourage families within our congregation and individuals and groups beyond us throughout the county to establish plots large and small where Monarchs can feed, rest, and lay their eggs.  Recently one family left church headed for an area plant nursery.  They have already planted milkweed plants in their yard.  Part three of our final report will include information from our dedication and our proposed logo for the waystation.

Thomas Berry’s words came my way this week:  “The natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong.  To be alienated from this community is to become destitute in all that makes us human.  To damage this community is to diminish our own existence.”  It is our commitment that the Mayfield Monarch Waystation will be a place for many others to find themselves in “the larger sacred community to which we belong.”  This waystation is set on beautifully spacious land that can enlarge us spiritually where we have been diminished.  And it will set our hands to the good work of eco-justice, the necessary reminder across creation that we are all in this together.

Thank you for your grant that helped us start this project in 2014 and not a few years from now.  Several pictures accompany this first part of our final report.  One is a picture of our famous black plastic.  Another is a monarch egg on the underside of a milkweed plant close by where the waystation will be.  And a third shows mulch unloading.

With gratitude from Mayfield and the Monarchs, Martha

Dance4Peace on Earth | Candice Tritch & Andrew Janssen

The Dance4Peace on Earth film project has concluded — so to speak. For the purposes of the grant, it’s done. But something happened to us along the way. Somewhere between January and June, we found a path that’s leading us on, and we know in our hearts this first film is only the beginning.

The collaborative nature of the project resulted in two things: it produced a series of videos that spread the message of peace through a global dance, and it fostered a sense of empowerment in the hearts of those who were a part of it.

The members may be “ordinary people” in their own towns, but they stepped up in an extraordinary way and are now making a statement to viewers all around the world. Their lives are changed, and their contributions are serving to change the lives of still others, in an ever-widening ripple effect.

Actually, the project had a third result – one we did not predict, but new seems obvious and natural in hindsight.  Somewhere between the composition of the soundtrack and the rendering of the final movie six months later, a movement started. People responded to this project in all sorts of ways, and from places we hardly knew existed. Dance Alchemy evolved from a local and regional dance company into a collective of dancers from more than 30 countries, all drawn together in a common vision to dance for peace. Even after we closed submissions for this most recent dance, they continued to join, to write, and to ask what’s next. 

We changed, too. Our vision for connecting dancers around the world has expanded to include every country on Earth. Goals that seemed like wild fantasy just six months ago look perfectly rational and achievable to us now. Our friendships with international members have changed our lives forever. Through their eyes, we see into countries and regions previously hidden to us, and understand more than ever the importance of the Dance4Peace onEarth project.

We can’t stop. So we won’t stop.

Already, two more movies are planned, and we are envisioning new and greater expansions every day. Our members are champing at the bit to get going. We started out to create one movie, fashioned around the notion that dancers across the globe might like to connect and dance together for peace. Along the way, we stepped into a whole new life.

Thank you, Christine, John and everyone at Abbey of the Arts, for making this
dream a reality, and nudging us into this wonderful new path.

Love & Peace,

Candice Tritch, Director
Andrew Janssen, Technical Director
Dance Alchemy, Inc.
“We put the Move in Peace Movement!”

You can find out more about the Earth Monastery Project and help support our vision of cultivating an earth-cherishing consciousness and giving small projects a chance to succeed by stopping by this link.

St. Francis at the Corner Pub (love note from your online Abbess)

SONY DSCSt. Francis at the Corner Pub

Approaching the door, you can already
hear his generous laughter.

He stands on the bar upside down for a moment
to get a new perspective on things,

a flash of polka-dotted boxers
as his brown robe cascades over his head,

sandaled toes wiggling in the air in time with
a fiddle playing in the corner.

Rain falls heavily in the deepening darkness
and he orders a round of drinks

despite his vow of poverty and the single silver coin
in his pocket, multiplied by the last Guinness poured.

Nothing like a good glass of wine, he gleefully says,
heavy Italian accent echoing through the room,

he holds it up to the overhead light, pausing for a moment
lost in its crimson splendor, breathes deeply.

At ease among fishmongers and plumbers,
widows and college students, and the

single mother sneaking out for a moment
of freedom from colic, cries, and diapers.

As the wind blows rain sideways, in come the
animals, benvenuti to pigeons, squirrels, seagulls, crows,

and the neighborhood cat balding from mange,
a chorus of yowls, coos, caws, and meows arising,

all huddle around him. No one objects to the growing
menagerie, just glad to be dry and warm.

He clinks glasses all around, no one left out.

—Christine Valters Paintner

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

Above is my latest poem to accompany one of the dancing monk icons. St. Francis has always struck me as one of the most earthy and approachable saints, someone you might run into at a pub and would make you feel like you were old friends.

With so much continued heartbreak in the news, I reflected a long while this week on the value of our inner monk and artist at times like these. It might be tempting to think that our commitment to love and beauty, to slowness and spaciousness, to wonder and presence are luxuries in times of so much violence, so much rending of bodies and spirits.

While none of us can save the world, we can create sanctuaries in our lives, places where compassion is the automatic response rather than fear, where we turn to hope and trust before anxiety, love rather than judgment.

I have no easy answers for the struggles we must face together, other than to know that these practices help to create a sense of presence I would otherwise not be able to hold onto. We might be tempted to think that engaging in contemplative practices will automatically lead to a life of peace, yet we know from the ancient desert mothers and fathers, that the practice is one for a lifetime. We will come up over and over against the inner and outer struggles. We are called to return to the deep heart each time, the place where profound peace is possible.

And community is an essential part of this path as well. I am deeply grateful for this virtual gathering of thousands who show up here and say this matters. Just like those arriving to the pub with St. Francis, you are all welcome here. Know yourself as a part of something much bigger.

If you would like to explore the gifts of the monk and artist paths in more depth, I invite you to consider registering for Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist, a 12-week online journey which begins September 1st. Gather with a small community in our dedicated virtual space to work through my book The Artist's Rule together, guided by two fabulous facilitators.

If you are a young adult considering joining us in Ireland next spring on pilgrimage, please let us know of your commitment by September 17th.

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Icon: Dancing St. Francis by Marcy Hall (order here)