Monk in the World guest post: Paula Huston

I adore Paula Huston's work and wise spirit.  She is a fellow monastic oblate (Camaldolese Benedictine) and writer of several books on spiritual practice, including my favorites Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit and The Holy Way: Practices for a Simple Life.  I had the gift of participating in a nonfiction writing workshop with her several years ago in New Mexico through the fabulous Glen workshop.  The Glen is a really wonderful gathering of writers and artists wrestling with the questions of meaning and substance in life.  Paula is a gifted teacher and also offers her wisdom for writers through the Image Journal's online manuscript critique in creative nonfiction.

Paula HustonYears ago, a young newspaper reporter showed up at a contemplative hermitage in the wilderness of Big Sur, hoping to interview some of the monks.  Never much in evidence except in the chapel during the Hours, on this particular day they made themselves especially scarce.  She looked in vain for someone she could talk to.  Finally she was rescued by Fr. Bernard, a diminutive French-Canadian who never could resist the sight of woman in distress.  He led her to a bench overlooking the sea, then gallantly invited her to ask him whatever she liked.

Thrilled to have captured a real monk, she said, no doubt a little breathlessly, “You’ve been here for almost fifty years, am I right?”

“You are indeed,” Fr. Bernard responded with his charming blue-eyed twinkle.

“Well, what I really want to know,” she said, “is why a person would ever come to a place like this.”

Without a moment’s pause, as though this were a question he had been thinking about for a very long time indeed, he said, “That is easy. I came here because life is short and I wanted to live it in the best way I could.”

In all the years I have been an oblate member of Fr. Bernard’s community, I have never heard of a better reason for taking up the monastic life. The monk’s life, when it is going well, is a life of discipline and integrity, one that (given enough time and commitment) slowly but inexorably leads to a new kind of person.  And when I first met Bernard and his brothers, that is what I wanted more than anything: to be better than I was.

That longing was so strong that it carried me through several decades of learning about and trying my best to practice (while still living very much in the world) various monastic disciplines: silence, solitude, fasting, chastity, frugality, simplicity, anonymity.  Much of that time was spent in frustration.  My efforts were so weak and I myself so apt to be derailed by the usual stresses of modern life that the task seemed hopeless.  Over and over, I rushed to the sanctuary of the hermitage for refueling, only to re-shoulder all my burdensome responsibilities as soon as I got back home.  Teaching.  Wifehood and motherhood.  Caretaking of elderly parents. Farm work. Writing.  The obstacles to a contemplative life seemed insurmountable.

Yet one of the great teachers of Christian contemplation, the fourth-century Evagrius of Ponticus, believed that the kind of life I was seeking and failing to find came only to those who did what I was doing, no matter how unproductive it seemed.  He called this early, essential stage on the contemplative path “praktikos,” a terms that connotes both “practical” and “practice.”   What it means is that we not only read about becoming less self-centered and egotistical but actually “practice” doing this through a disciplined approach to daily life.

If we persevere long enough, he believed, then we will advance to a stage he called “physikos.”  We will begin to understand created nature, including human beings.  We will begin to see why the world is as it is.  Or as the great British Romantic poet Wordsworth put it, we will learn to “see into the life of things.” More, we will begin to love the universe, including our sometimes irritating, sometimes horrifying fellow creatures, in a way we cannot possibly love them when we truly only love and care about ourselves.

And finally, said Evagrius, we might even become “theologikos,” or whose who are gifted–perhaps like Fr. Bernard was at the end–with the ability to see and comprehend divine realities.  We might become what the Eastern Orthodox call “pneumataphors,” or “bearers of the Holy Spirit.”  We might become pure enough of heart and focused enough in the mind to contemplate God.

As a “monk in the world,” if this is what I really am, and most days I feel like a bit of a fraud in that regard, I know I am a very long way indeed from Evagrius’s definition of a theologikos.  What I do know, however, after nearly twenty years of attempting to incorporate whatever monastic wisdom and practice I can into my everyday modern American life, is that I have indeed changed along the way. I am a little better than I used to be.  And I do, at rare but riveting times, see the world and its tragic beauties and terrible griefs and inexplicable sufferings in a new and unfamiliar way–a way that makes me want to love instead of condemn it.

As an “artist of the everyday,” if that is what I really am, and most days I seriously doubt this too, I know that whatever I once thought the writing life was meant to be has long since burned to ash.  My early aspirations to literary greatness.  My secret conviction that only public praise, and a lot of it, could possibly validate my existence.  Instead, I’ve come to believe that the only writing worth doing anymore  (not that I am yet capable of doing it) is that which helps light the way to theologikos, or genuine contemplation.

What I have learned is that transformation has a way of sneaking up on us.  Whatever happens along the contemplative path is very subtle.  And it is only in looking back at ourselves from the perspective of decades that the change begins to reveal itself.

For this small insight after so much stumbling blindness, I am profoundly grateful.

Paula Huston is the author of two novels, Daughters of Song and A Land Without Sin, plus six works of spiritual nonfiction.  Her essays and short fiction have been honored by Best American Short Stories, Best Spiritual Writing, and the NEA.  She currently teaches in Seattle Pacific University’s MFA in Creative Writing program.

To read other posts in this series click here>>

Invitation to Dance: Softening and Yielding

button-danceWe continue our theme this month of "Softening and Yielding" which arose from our Community Lectio Divina practice with Yehuda Amichai's poem "The Place Where We Are Right" and continued with this month's Photo Party and Poetry Party.

Dance invites us to soften the armoring of our bodies and yield to the impulse of life moving through us moment by moment.  We spend so much energy trying to control events, dance is an opportunity to practice the deep surrender we are called to as monks in the world

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 image of "Softening and Yielding" as the gentlest of intentions, planting a seed as you prepare to step into the dance.
  • Play the piece of music below (Vivaldi's Spring 2 Recomposed by Max Richter) 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.
  • 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.


You can see the fall calendar of invitations 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: Tonja Reichley

I met Tonja Reichley earlier this year when I first moved to Ireland via internet serendipity. I was searching online for an herbalist in Kinvara (the village I first landed in before Galway) and found Tonja's website.  She is an American (Denver-based) who lives part-time in Ireland and leads herbalism-focused pilgrimages to Ireland.  And it just so happened that she was going to be in Kinvara a few days after I contacted her, so we met for coffee and discovered our mutual love of Hildegard of Bingen.  I wanted to know more about Hildegard's herbal practices and Tonja wanted to know more about her monastic roots, and so a meaningful friendship was born.  I am so delighted to welcome Tonja to our Abbey community, I have been studying herbalism with her this past summer and have been deeply blessed by her presence in my life.

Read more from Tonja about becoming a monk in the world:

Tonja ReichleyThe limestone grey stone walls reverberate with our chants of “Awen*, Amen” as we collect stinging nettles and viriditas-infused cleavers.  The echoes of our chants mingle with the ancient melodies of the monks who tended to this place for hundreds of year.    We feel their presence through the herbs and through our chants.   We are a group of pilgrims, monks in the world, harvesting healing herbs in a 12th century infirmary, now sky clad, just as the church it stands next to in the Burren of West Ireland.    The herbs who offer their medicine to us today are the same lineage of plants that the monks would have used hundreds of years ago.  We, too, create nourishing teas and tinctures with these herbs and are nourished body, mind and spirit, just as our ancestors would have been.

Tonja 2 webI am an herbalist and this is how I walk through the world as monk.   Brighid and Hildegard are my teachers as are the plants themselves who offer thresholds not only to deep healing but to divine connection.

Brighid of Kildare is one of the patron saints of Ireland and prior to her manifestation in human form, she was a triple goddess of this land:  a goddess of healing, smithcraft and poetry.    She was a midwife and a healer and some of her favorite remedies are now mine: dandelion, blackberry, sleep, water and laughter.

Brighid was so relevant to the Irish people that with the coming of Christianity with St Patrick in the 5th century, she was born as a flesh and blood woman.   She traveled the countryside with her white, red-eared cow, offering healing remedies and unlimited amounts of milk from her cow companion.  She established a monastery in Kildare and she and her nuns tended to a sacred flame that still burns to this day.

Brighid, the saint, the monk, the herbalist.  She is my teacher.  I tend to her flame, which burns perpetually  in my botanical shop in Denver, a gift from the nuns in Kildare.   I visit her holy wells and harvest dandelion to use as medicine.  This is how I move through the world as a monk.

I walk in the footsteps of Hildegard of Bingen, a mighty woman who established monasteries and worked with the healing power of herbs 700 years after Brighid of Kildare.  Like Brighid, she and her nuns tended their herb gardens and harvested the wild herbs from hedgerows and forests and fertile fields.    As a monk in the world, I, too, tend to my herb garden and harvest the humble herbs that grow along boreens in Ireland and in the mountains of Colorado and the alleyways of urban Denver.  Tending and harvesting these gifts from God, this is how I walk through the world as a monk.

One of Hildegard’s favorite herbs was rose.  She believed that adding rose to her healing remedies made stronger, deeper medicines.    Rose, in all of her beauty and sweetness, is a great healer for the heart: opening, strengthening, inviting self-love.  I, too, use rose in many of my healing remedies believing in the transformative power that it holds, subtly encouraging  healing from a place of self-love.  Using the herbs that my teachers used, this is how I walk through the world as a monk.

These women, these monks, created and built the paths that I now endeavor to walk.   Paths of deep healing and nourishment, offered by God through the plants and through the alchemy that we, as monks and ritualists, infuse into our herbal medicines.

The sun shines brightly into my Irish cottage, as the hands who harvested nettles and cleavers and blackberry from the  ruins of the monastic infirmary, now transmute the plants into medicine.  We sit in circle as our ancestors did, we look upon a landscape of grey and green and hills and cairns, a landscape little changed in hundreds of years.  We give of our love and intention as we create medicine.  We receive.

This, this is how I walk through the world as a monk.

*Awen is a Gaelic word meaning creative inspiration, divine wholeness, bliss.  I like chanting Awen and Amen together…  the W in Awen representing woman and the M in Amen representing man.  Divine wholeness, yes!

Herbalist (BS, MBA) Tonja Reichley spends her time in the urban alleyways of Denver and on the windswept coast of western Ireland foraging for wild herbs to nourish, heal and revitalize the whole self.   She loves the power and connection of ritual and ancient Celtic monastic traditions.  She created MoonDance Botanicals, a herbal boutique where all products are handcrafted by a collaborative herbal community and is the author of The Way of Brighid Oracle Cards, a 33-card deck dedicated to Irish goddess and saint, Brighid offering reflections, meditations and affirmations..   Her new book The Holy Wildness: Awakening to Ancient Rhythms of Sacred Irish Landscape  explores how the turas, the holy journey, offers thresholds to sensual secrets, deep yearnings and spiraled awakenings.   Visit her website at .


Invitation to Poetry: Softening and Yielding

Claudia Gregoire

Welcome to Poetry Party #71!

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

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

We began this month with a Community Lectio Divina practice and followed up with our Photo Party on the theme of "Softening and Yielding." (You are most welcome to still participate).  We continue this theme in our Poetry Party this month.

Here in the northern hemisphere it is autumn which calls us into the journey of surrender, release, and radical yielding of our own agendas, into the holy direction of letting our grasp soften and open and be spacious, welcoming in whatever comes.

You can post your poem either in the comment section below*or you can join our Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group (with over 700 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.

You can see the fall calendar of invitations here>>

*Photo by Claudia Gregoire

Monk in the World guest post: Kent Ira Groff

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Kent Ira Groff through our mutual attendance at Spiritual Directors International conferences.  We have a shared love of poetry which makes us kindred spirits.  Kent teaches and writes about prayer and poetry in inviting and accessible ways and I am delighted to share his insights into becoming a monk in the world:

KentIraGroffMugBehind me as I write this is Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’—so anyone meeting with me in person or via Skype sees it. The sky and the village are ablaze with lights, yet the church windows are dark. (The church architecture resembles one where his father was pastor in the Netherlands—now superimposed on a French landscape.) Van Gogh consistently painted his churches without lights. Why?

When young Vincent began ministering with the poor coal miners in Belgium, for a time some churches gave financial support, but then withdrew it, even for food and clothing. From then on he rejected institutional church religion, but never Christ. When I tell this at retreats, I say, ‘It’s up to us to put the lights back on in the churches!’ How can we do that?

Van Gogh Starry NightOne way is to link churches and the arts (visual art, pottery, poetry, drama, music, film, dance) with ongoing use of art in sermons, worship, and education. How about a preacher hold up an art object as part of the sermon (or project art on a screen)? Or break into singing, ‘Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…?’ Or enlist folks to mime a parable of Jesus as it’s read? Or show a movie clip? Or use ‘Scripture Echo?’  These can be done simply.

A major way is to use art to connect churches with poor people all around us. Van Gogh continued to minister this way with his art—potato eaters, empty shoes, and faces of poor folks. With no worldly success, selling only one painting in his lifetime, Vincent literally lived as a monk in the world. What would that look like for you, for me?

The very best way is to become the art: ‘We are God’s work of art (poema in Greek),’ we read in Ephesians 2:10. Your life is a unique work of art. Michael Card reflects this in his moving CD, Poiema. Gandhi said, ‘My life is my message.’ Art can take the brokenness of life and transform it into beauty. Jazz makes the blues joyous. Poetry and yoga-type exercises do that for me.

After surgery for a back injury in 1974, I literally ‘backed’ into disciplined practices of meditation and prayer. Prescribed exercises have become gestures of gratitude or prayers for others. I’ve found ways to incorporate liturgical prayers, scriptures, and breathing meditations. I still go through times of intense pain. Writing creates a way to redirect the body’s pain. Recently, while teaching a writing class at Chautauqua, New York, my wife had to carry my backpack. I wrote in my journal:

Painting Pain

Is there beneath
this pain some gain
that I might miss
if I complain?

Is there within
my complaint some
vibrant pigment
I can use to paint
suffering’s landscape,
to reinvent my pain
into a space for all
humanity to trace
an arc of beauty in
the dust and rain?

Portions are adapted from Kent Ira Groff, Honest to God Prayer.

Kent Ira Groff is a spiritual companion, a retreat director and a writer poet living in Denver, Colorado, USA, who describes his work as “one beggar showing other beggars where to find bread”—his take on being a monk in the world. Serving as founding mentor of Oasis Ministries in Pennsylvania, USA, he also teaches writing in prisons and is author of several books including Writing Tides and Honest to God Prayer. You can see his Weekly Reflections and resources at

To read other posts in this series click here>>

New Art for 8th Principle of the Monk Manifesto! (plus revised video meditation)

NEW 8th principle of the Monk Manifesto:

*I commit to being a dancing monk, cultivating creative joy and letting my body and "heart overflow with the inexpressible delights of love."*

8 - DancingMonk

And here is the revised version of the Monk Manifesto video with the 8th principle included:

Monk Manifesto Meditation (8 Principles for being a Monk in the World) from Christine Valters Paintner on Vimeo.

Invitation to Photography: Softening and Yielding

Welcome to this month's Abbey Photo Party!

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

We began this month with a Community Lectio Divina practice (stop by to read the beautiful responses).  As I prayed with the poem by Yehuda Amichai, this phrase kept shimmering for me: 

But doubts and loves / Dig up the world.

These last few months I have been called more deeply into a journey of softening and yielding, of discovering the profound grace that comes with embracing my own earthiness and the layers beneath all of the armoring I have in my body, my mind, and my heart.  This is a lifelong journey.

With our overall theme of the year at the Abbey as discernment, I love the image that doubt can be a bearer of gifts and certainty can kill our deepest dreams. Doubt softens us to come to know what is beneath the surface of our image of achievement.

I invite you for this month's Photo Party to play with this idea as you go out in the world to receive images in response. As you walk hold this inspiration of softening and yielding and be ready to see what is revealed to you.

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) or you can 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 "Softening and Yielding" 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.

You can see the fall calendar of invitations here>>

Monk Manifesto 8th Principle Added! (a love note from your online Abbess)

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NEW 8th principle of the Monk Manifesto:

*I commit to being a dancing monk, cultivating creative joy and letting my body and "heart overflow with the inexpressible delights of love."*

Seattle (web)02Dearest monks and artists,

The 7th principle of the Monk Manifesto states: "I commit to a lifetime of ongoing conversion and transformation, recognizing that I am always on a journey with both gifts and limitations."

For me, this means, that everything is in process, everything is open to change, especially my own heart and understanding.  So it feels right and true that I would discover a longing to add another principle to the 7 we have been deepening into these last several years, to recognize that as my own wisdom in life deepens I may need to add and adjust what I have said before.

It feels especially appropriate to share this 8th principle as I get ready to lead a retreat this week, which when I led it last year was the seed that planted the inspiration for the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks. The part in quotes at the end of the 8th principle comes from the Prologue of Benedict's Rule.

The Christmas after I turned 40 I traveled to Vienna by myself and had a pulmonary embolism which landed me in the hospital.  Four months later, still shaken by this encounter with death, I traveled to the desert in New Mexico to be with what had happened.  It was here that I rediscovered dance again and in the years since it has begun radically informing how I understand my path as a monk in the world. It has been calling me to the deepest kind of creative joy, a joy that is not mere happiness, or a denial of the reality of pain and suffering, but joy which dips me into the deepest well of nourishment and calls me to trust in the fundamental goodness of life even when things around me seem to be saying otherwise.  And I touch into this well most often when I make time to dance and write and receive photos, or when I make time to immerse myself in the beauty of creation.  The Abbey of the Arts' twin emphasis has always been on both contemplation and creativity.  Both of these paths nourish me by drawing me down into this Source.

In the coming days I will be creating a new version of the Monk Manifesto PDF for you to print easily.  I have also asked Kristin Noelle, who created the wonderful series of drawings to accompany the original 7 principles, to add an 8th image, which will also get added to the video. Look for those in the next couple of weeks and I will definitely let you know in a future love note.

I will also be adding a new "lesson" to the free Monk in the World e-course and will let you know when that is posted as well. And my hope is, when I am back from traveling, to also create a small group resource for those of you who want to move through the Monk in the World material with others.

My web person has created some great buttons for those of you who want to share your commitment to being a monk in the world or dancing monk with others on your blog or Facebook page.  You can find them at this link.  It would be so wonderful to see Facebook flooded with "I am a dancing monk" buttons!  Please tag me when you post.

Last week I spent an incredible five days with those attending our Awakening the Creative Spirit intensive who want to learn how to bring the expressive arts to their own communities (FYI: the only time this program will be offered in 2014 is at the Forest of Peace retreat center near Tulsa, Oklahoma, April 29-May 4 and only three spaces left!).  During this past week full of creative exploration in community I had a dream:

I was part of a revolutionary group called The Change and the time came to activate our mission. We had to leave our homes because there were people who were trying to sabotage what we were doing, but we were gathering together to empower one another, and getting ready to bring our message to the world.

As the week unfolded and I had a chance to be with the images and invitation, I realized here I was, gathered with my community to be empowered to continue bringing the creative joy and aliveness of the arts into the world.  That this truly is a revolution, an invitation to transform the way we move through the world, so we no longer rely so heavily on logic and planning and achievement, but yield to the creative and intuitive impulse moving through us from the Great Artist.

When the week was drawing to a close, there is always a sadness at having to leave the safe and sacred space we have created together. And yet, as I reminded the group, we always gather knowing we will be returning to our communities after our season together is done.  The creative joy we are nourished by is to be shared far and wide.

So if you are here with me and actively nurturing the contemplative and creative path in your own life, you are part of The Change as well!  I know the dream has many more layers to explore, but I already feel vitalized by its initial message to me.

We begin a new month at the Abbey with a new Community Lectio Divina invitation.  This month we are praying together with a beautiful poem by Yehuda Amichai titled "The Place Where we Are Right."

We also have two wonderful new monk in the world guest posts from Claire Bangasser of A Catholic Woman's Place and Lacy Clark Ellman of A Sacred Journey.

If you are in the Midwest, I would love to see you in Chicago on October 19th, where we will gather together for creative inspiration and empowerment, and dip down into that Holy Source of joy and aliveness. I would be so grateful if you could share this invitation with other Midwest monks you might know.

With great and growing love,


*Photo: Love discovered on a Seattle sidewalk

Monk in the World guest post: Lacy Clark Ellman

I first met Lacy when she attended our Awakening the Creative Spirit intensive and then later participated in my Sacred Rhythms Writing Retreat.  Lacy was finishing graduate school and launched into her passion which is pilgrimage.  She has a wonderful website with great articles and guest posts on one of my own favorite topics.  Read on for her reflections on being a monk in the world:

Lacy Clark EllmanNot too long ago, I moved from Missouri to Southern California. The desert landscape that would accompany us on our drive here gave me the chance to contemplate what it is like for monks to leave the world in order to devote their lives to prayer within the confines of a monastery. As we drove for hours on end, I particularly thought a lot about the life of the desert monastics and the draw of the silence, stillness, and solitude that such a vast expanse of barren and colorless landscape brings. In order to immerse themselves in the Divine, these monks left their homes in pursuit of something more.

That’s not so different from a pilgrim, really. Just like the monk, the pilgrim risks a great deal, leaving the known for the unknown, the secure for the mysterious. Pilgrimage is one of the most ancient spiritual practices, beginning with Abraham, who was called to leave home in pursuit of God. Since the time of Abraham, the faithful have journeyed beyond their borders to honor sacred encounters of the past, and also in hopes of new divine experiences and transformation.

Lacy in RomeToday, dreamers and seekers are setting out on pilgrimages with renewed interest, journeying to places like Iona or Santiago de Compostela in the footsteps of those who have gone before them. There is no doubt that a resurgence is taking place, and as with many renewals within the Church, it is moved by the breath of the Spirit. But what happens when the pilgrim returns home, attempting to integrate the rumblings of her journey into her everyday life? And what of the monastery’s visitor, arriving back after a retreat filled with contemplation, only to be rocked by the hustle and bustle of the world that he thought he had left behind?

As someone who lives “in the world,” that is where my greatest challenge begins. It is just so easy to get distracted at home, so tempting to stay comfortable, and so natural to lose sight of the sacred in things that quickly become mundane. Even my awareness of this doesn’t mean it’s not a struggle. Oh no–I wish it were that easy! For as long as I can remember, my heart has longed to roam beyond my front door, yearning for the transformation that can be found just beyond the horizon. And it’s true–inspiration and sacred encounter can happen in unique ways when we leave our everyday lives behind in order to journey. If it weren’t true, pilgrimage (and the metaphor it provides) wouldn’t be as powerful. But as I’ve learned, we all have to come home sometime.

Because of this reality, it is especially important to practice being a “monk in the world,” and for me, an everyday pilgrim. In fact, it is through this practice that I’d say I’m also an artist in everyday life. Sure, with a bachelor of fine arts degree and a website I both write for and curate, there are many traditional arts that fill my days: I’m a graphic designer and a watercolorist, a doodler-at-large and a novice knitter. I hum tunes all day and if you give me a room, I will transform it into an oasis and even come in under budget (now that’s an art!). But for me, these are just hobbies or ways to pay the bills. They bring me joy and flex my creativity, certainly, but they don’t stretch me quite like being a monk in the world and and everyday pilgrim does. To me, this is my art, and each day is my medium.

Lacy desertOf course, to the outsider, this makes it seem a lot more impressive than it really is. To practice and to create each day as a monk in the world and an everyday pilgrim is fulfilling, yes, but it is also a daily challenge. I must not only show up to the silence, stillness, and solitude every morning that comes with the way of contemplation, or the awareness and curiosity that are required for the pilgrim–each day I must also show up to face the struggles that are sure to arrive. As a monk who is not in a monastery but in the world, and a pilgrim who is journeying intentionally not just abroad but in everyday life, I am straddling two realities. These two realities are so natural to our image-bearing souls, yet in this in-between world of “already and not yet,” the monk in the world and the everyday pilgrim are still seemingly antithetical. This means that I am continuously wrestling, because I choose to stand at the edge.

This is how I know that my commitment to be a monk in the world and an everyday pilgrim is my art: because each day I show up to the blank canvas on a Spirit-fueled search, seeking inspiration and bringing with me desires and questions alike. And each day I struggle, wrestling with insecurities, whisperings of my false self, and “shoulds” and shame leftover from time that has long since passed. But, most important to the work of an artist–amidst the desire and the struggle, I stay. And I return each day again and again, because creating a life as a monk in the world honors my sacred desires, and living daily as an everyday pilgrim engages my quest. Each day, the canvas awaits, and all I must do is come with intention in my mind, inspiration in my heart, and a brush in my hand.

Lacy Clark Ellman’s two greatest loves are spirituality and travel, and she was a pilgrim long before she ever fully understood the meaning of the practice. She has a Master of Arts degree in Theology and Culture and is the founder and curator of, where she explores her two loves through her own writing and the contributions of other pilgrims. Her upcoming book, Pilgrim Principles: Practicing Pilgrimage Everyday, is a seven-week journey at home that explores what it means to be pilgrims in our daily lives. It will be released in January 2014. To learn more about the book, follow A Sacred Journey’s posts, and download free offerings, subscribe here. You can also follow A Sacred Journey on Twitter and Instagram and Like it on Facebook.

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Community Lectio Divina: The Place We Are Right by Yehuda Amichai

button-lectioWith October comes a new invitation for contemplation. This month I invite you into a lectio divina practice with a poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. Wisdom Council member Cheryl Macpherson (who co-facilitates our Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist class) suggested it, and I was delighted because it is one of my favorites. I think it expresses beautifully the monastic path of humility, the root of which is humus, meaning of the earth. During this autumn season (for our northern hemisphere folks) we are reminded of all that is earthy, of the cycle of life and death, of returning to the ground.

How Community Lectio Divina works:

Each month there will be a passage selected from scripture or poetry (and at some point we will engage in some visio and audio divina as well with art and music).

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

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

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

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

The Place Where We Are Right

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

Yehuda Amichai (Translated from the original Hebrew)

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 or at our Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group which you can join here.

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

You can see the full fall calendar of invitations here>>

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