Winner of last week's book drawing

Amy Evans is the winner of a copy of Mary Sharratt's novel about Hildegard of Bingen. Amy, please email me with your mailing address.

Monk in the World guest post: Edward Sellner

I am delighted to bring you another fabulous monk in the world guest post in our series. I first discovered Edward Sellner's work several years ago through his wonderful book  Finding the Monk Within: Great Monastic Values for Today (which I recommend often as a great grounding in monasticism) and I am currently reading Wisdom of the Celtic Saints. I find much kinship with his love of the monk's path, Thomas Merton, and the gifts of a Jungian approach.

Read on for Ed's wisdom about becoming a monk in the world:

Ed Sellner 4 webThe first book I ever wrote was entitled Mentoring: The Ministry of Spiritual Kinship.  In it, I describe the origin and some of the history of mentoring in Christian traditions, as well as the various roles it can take in a person’s life.  One specific type of mentoring I referred to as “long distance,” applying it to those mentors whom we perhaps have never met in person but who have become guides for us through their writings or their personal example.  The Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was and continues to be such a mentor for me, perhaps the most significant one in my life.  Although I never met him, he has been a constant companion since I first read his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, as a teenager.  Because of him, I decided, as a young adult, to pursue a doctorate in theology and spirituality at the University of Notre Dame. It was there, through the help of certain mentors, that I began to study Jungian psychology which eventually helped me understand better medieval hagiographies or stories of the saints, that are so filled with symbolic images and symbols.  It was there too that I began to pay closer attention to my own dreams and the wisdom they were offering me.  In one of a series of dreams I encountered Thomas Merton who in this dream acted as a guide.  We seemed to be standing on a hillock, overlooking two stone buildings below us, one of which seemed deserted, with an empty interior and shattered glass, while the other, connected to similar structures nearby, formed a circle, looking firm and solidly built. Pointing to the uninhabited one, Merton said in my dream, “This is the church which didn’t adapt,” and then, pointing to the other, “this is the one open to the life of the Spirit. “ It was about the time of these dreams that I had Merton’s saying framed and placed on my desk: “If I can unite in myself the thought and devotion of Eastern and Western Christendom, the Greek and Latin Fathers, the Russian with the Spanish mystics, I can prepare in myself the reunion of divided Christians.  From that secret and unspoken unity in myself can eventually come a visible and manifest unity of all Christians.” In other words, if Christian unity was to be achieved, if we were to be united as in a circle, it would have to start with me.

After graduation from Notre Dame in 1981, I was happy to be hired by the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota, (now Saint Catherine University), to teach pastoral theology, Christian spirituality, and Jungian psychology (as it applied to spiritual direction). This was also the time, early in my academic career, when I began to pursue research and writing in Celtic spirituality, an area of interest of mine not only because of my Irish ancestry, but also because Merton had introduced me to that particular rich ecclesial and spiritual heritage years before in his books.  One fall term, on a leave-of-absence from my teaching, I had the opportunity to research and write at the St. Theosevia Centre of Christian Spirituality in Oxford, England, with the help of Donald Allchin, an Anglican friend of Merton’s who encouraged me to continue my work in Celtic spirituality.  Upon my return to Minnesota, when my book, Wisdom of the Celtic Saints, was published, I dedicated it to “Thomas Merton, my guide.” (The title of my work, of course, had been inspired by his Wisdom of the Desert.) I continued to read Merton’s extensive works and incorporate them into my classes and my own writings.  He was the inspiration for one of my most recent books, Finding the Monk Within, written not only for those living in monasteries or convents, but for the increasing number of lay people interested in a form of monasticism for themselves, often as lay oblates, associates, consociates, or partners of established monastic communities. (In a recent pilgrimage to China, I discovered at various Hindu, Taoist, Shinto, and Buddhist temples, the same phenomenon of lay people in Asia interested in aligning themselves with certain monasteries.)

Ed Sellner 2 we

Cottage where Merton died

Ed Sellner 1This is where my attention has now turned over the past decade: after immersing myself in primarily Western Christian theology and spirituality for so long, I am now studying, as Merton did, the spiritual traditions of the East.  Inspired by his example, I have traveled to China, Japan, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand, seeking to learn first-hand from Asian monks about their spirituality and prayer life.  In 2014, I have plans to visit Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand (once more). On my last trip to Thailand in February, 2013, I was able to find the cottage where Merton died almost forty-five years ago, outside of Bangkok, and to pray there in thanksgiving for all that he has given to me.  I am presently writing a new book on how Zen Buddhism changed the theology and spirituality of two Roman Catholics from the 1960s: Jack Kerouac and, yes, Thomas Merton himself.  At this point in my life, I am grateful to be able to spend so many hours now with Thomas Merton, as I reread his books and turn to all those I never had a chance to read in my busy academic and family life.

Yes, Merton has been my companion on my life’s journey as a monk in the world; a spiritual mentor, my soul friend.  I hope my story might encourage you, the reader, to search for and find (if you have not done so already) spiritual mentors who inspire you.  For me, I can only agree with what Donald Allchin, my mentor from Oxford, said about Merton, his friend: “of all the aspects of Merton’s work, his gift of crossing the frontiers between great world religions is perhaps the most significant for the future of humankind.”

Ed Sellner is professor of theology and spirituality at Saint Catherine University, St. Paul, Minnesota, and a spiritual writer. His most recent books are Finding the Monk Within: Great Monastic Values for Today (Paulist Press, 2008), and The Double: Male Eros, Friendships, and Mentoring-From Gilgamesh To Kerouac (Lethe Press, 2013).

To read other posts in this series click here>>


Invitation to Dance: The Call to Our True Selves

button-danceWe continue our theme this month of "The Call to Our True Selves" which arose from our Community Lectio Divina practice with the quote from Merton's poem and continued with this month's Photo Party and Poetry Party.

Last month we explored the possibility that dance could help to soften the armoring of our bodies and yield to the impulse of life moving through us moment by moment.  In learning this kind of surrender, we deepen into the life that is truly ours, not the one we construct for ourselves. We learn to release the expectations of others and playing roles to please those around us.  We grow into the selves we were called to be.

I invite you into a movement practice.  Allow yourself just 5-10 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 "The Call to Our True Selves" as the gentlest of intentions, planting a seed as you prepare to step into the dance. You don't need to think this through or figure it out, just notice what arises.
  • Play the piece of music below ("Nuvole Bianche" by Ludovico Einaudi) 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.
  • 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>>

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Finding Home Within (a love note from your online Abbess)

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Wild Rosebush

How it stands there against the dark
of this late rainy hour, young and clean,
swaying its generous branches
yet absorbed in its essence as rose;
with wide-open flowers already appearing,
each unsought and each uncared-for….
So, endlessly exceeding itself
and ineffably from itself come forth,
it calls the wanderer, who in evening contemplation
passes on the road:
Oh see me standing here, see how unafraid I am
and unprotected. I have all I need.

—Rainer Maria Rilke

Dearest monks and artists,

It feels like the threads of my life are weaving themselves again and beckoning to me to follow. I shared in my newsletter last week about herbalism and the particular gifts of rose as a part of medicine. Then the Rilke poem above was shared with me by a dancing monk and I was grateful to find it again, or to be found by the poem, as would be more accurate. I see myself so clearly in that wanderer, receiving the wisdom of rose by the side of the road. To be reminded of the courage needed.

Rose is also my birth flower (born in the month of June) and of course, the rose is a symbol both for Mary and for Jesus (as in one of my favorite hymns for the coming season). Lately I have been feeling like Mary is inviting me into a deeper intimacy with her. Last fall she showed herself again and again inviting me into a deep trust in the fundamental generosity of life.

This past week I contacted Ronna Detrick, whose work I so deeply respect, she has such a creative and enlivening way with the stories of women from scripture. She makes them matter for our lives. Ronna has created a process she calls Sacred Readings, where you ask a question and she draws a card with one of these women and listens for how she responds. My question to Ronna had to do with home and our longing to put down deep roots here in Galway.  Out of the 52 possible women she could have chosen, Mary was the one who stepped forward.

In the reading she appeared as the wanderer, the one who has known exile, and the one who carries home in her heart. Of course these things resonate deeply with me. The message, as all of the wisdom that has come to me in the past year and a half on this life pilgrimage, has been an invitation to a deep and abiding trust and knowing there is an abundant Source at the heart of everything. This is the trust which allowed me to step away from my lovely and comfortable life in Seattle, sell everything I owned, and move out into foreign landscapes seeking something I couldn't quite name. I continue to listen.

Ronna wrote to me: Mary "creates a 'home' for others through her story, her status, her heart.  And all of this is possible because of her ability to trust the unseen, the miraculous, the amazing." There was much solace offered in this encounter. Funny, how we humans need confirmation again and again. I am grateful it continues to be offered to me.

I love that Mary is especially revered in the world of monks: from the Black Madonnas in Benedictine monasteries like Einsiedeln in Switzerland and Montserrat in Spain to Bernard of Clairvaux, that great Cistercian reformer of the Middle Ages and Hildegard of Bingen, the Benedictine Abbess, who both held Mary in special regard, her yes as participating in a unique way the holiness birthed through God.

I have been traveling a great deal this fall and as you read this I will have left on another trip – this time to Norway to lead a retreat.  John and I are also making time to visit Tromso, up in the Arctic Circle, where we hope to see the Northern Lights we have always longed to see. But even if that doesn't happen, we will be embraced by the long dark nights and skies filled with a thousand stars. It will be a gift to breathe into a small window of time when holy mystery descends in such a tangible way. Vienna also beckons for some time at the Christmas markets, this is the most magical time of year there with glittering lights everywhere and the chance to warm yourself with mulled wine, classical music streaming from church doors, long walks in the Vienna woods.

Following these travels, I enter into a season at home, three lovely months in Ireland and the invitation right now is to continue the inner pilgrimage with Mary as my guide. I delight in my times of travel and in connecting with dancing monks in person, and I am also dancing in the anticipation of time to turn inward and root and rest, to continue to find ways to claim this land as home and listen for Mary's ongoing wisdom in the midst of so much ongoing transition.

This is what I love about seasonal wisdom. Autumn has been a season or travel and exploration and the coming winter beckons with quieter rhythms and the call to focus energy on building my connections here in Ireland, to deepen into a sense of community. This too is the essence of the monk's path: to listen for what this season right now invites you to consider, knowing it is different than the season that came before. We are invited to yield and be flexible, to surrender into a greater wisdom than our own.

What is the invitation of the season ahead in your own life?  What threads are you following? How might you honor the shifts happening deep within?

This all feels like very ripe possibility for entering into Advent, the time of waiting, of tending to the coming birth.  If you would like to make an intentional journey from home, please join us as we embrace the wisdom of Celtic spirituality this year to guide our pilgrimage online. We would love to have you.

We also have a new Poetry Party and monk in the world guest post from Mary Sharratt, author of a wonderful novel about Hildegard of Bingen, and you have a chance to win a free copy of her book.

With great and growing love,


Monk in the World guest post: Mary Sharratt

I first encountered author Mary Sharratt's work about a year ago when my interest in Hildegard of Bingen drew me to her new novel Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen.  We don't know much about Hildegard's years spent at Disibodenberg, but Mary does a masterful job of weaving together the historical sources we do have with historical imagination to create a compelling story about a remarkable woman. She is a beautiful writer and I loved the book. I am delighted that Mary was willing to share her own wisdom here about being a monk in the world.

Mary is also offering a free copy of her book to one lucky winner.  To enter the random drawing please leave a comment on this post below about your own interest in Hildegard.  You can earn extra entries by sharing this post on Facebook, be sure to tag me so that I can see that you have shared it.

Read on for Mary's insights:

Visions of the Green Saint

Mary SharrattHow has Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th century visionary abbess, polymath, and powerfrau, taught me to be a monk in the world? Her visions were so magnificent, so all-embracing, that she transcended cloistered walls and embraced the entire cosmos.

Born in the lush green Rhineland in present day Germany, Hildegard (1098–1179) was offered as a child oblate to Disibodenberg Monastery and walled into an anchorage at the age of eight or fourteen, according to which version of her biography you read. This sensitive child was expected to lead a life of utter silence and submission. Yet, after decades in her “mausoleum,” as Guibert of Gembloux’s account of her life calls the anchorage, she broke free to become the greatest voice of her age.

Hildegard founded two monastic houses for women and went on four preaching tours. She developed her own system of holistic medicine still practiced in modern day Germany and composed an entire corpus of highly original sacred music. She wrote nine books addressing both scientific and religious subjects, an unprecedented accomplishment for a 12th-century woman. Her prophecies earned her the title Sybil of the Rhine. An outspoken critic of political and ecclesiastical corruption, she was a reformer who courted controversy.

Hildegard calls me, as a spiritual woman, to resist all forms of physical and mental confinement. Instead she urges me to embrace life as passionately as she did. I believe she calls on all of us to discover our inner polymath and allow our God-given gifts and talents to unfold to their greatest fruition.

Following her example, I balance my daily meditation and prayer and my hours of writerly solitude with forays into the Divine splendour of nature. Hildegardian spirituality counters acedia, or spiritual dryness, with the ecstasies of Viriditas, her revelation of the animating life force manifest in the burgeoning green world, that sacred power infusing all creation with moisture and vitality. To her, the Divine was manifest in every leaf and blade of grass. Creation unveiled the face of the invisible Creator.

I, the fiery life of divine essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows, I gleam in the waters, and I burn in the sun, moon and stars . . . . I awaken everything to life.

—Hildegard von Bingen, Liber Divinorum (Book of Divine Works)

Living in a semi-rural area in Northern England, my daily covenant is to go outdoors every day, regardless of the weather, and take care of my spirited Welsh mare who lives at a stableyard on a hilltop with views over the Pennine moors. Here the blasting winds and constantly changing weather patterns, the spring bluebells and shimmering trees, the owls and kestrels, the sun, moon, and circling stars, all place me in a state of mindful wonder. This is my daily revelation of the Divine whom Hildegard called Mother.

Hildegard revered the Feminine Divine in the form of Sapientia, Divine Wisdom, also called Sophia. After devouring Dr. Barbara Newman’s classic work Sister of Wisdom: Saint Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine, I learned that Hildegard’s Sapientia is drawn directly from the scriptures—from the Book of Wisdom in the Old Testament of the Catholic Bible. There’s nothing “new agey” about the Feminine Divine within Christianity.

Sapientia creates the cosmos by existing within it.

O power of Wisdom!
You encompassed the cosmos,
Encircling and embracing all in one living orbit
With your three wings:
One soars on high,
One distills the earth’s essence,
And the third hovers everywhere.

—Hildegard von Bingen, O virtus sapientia

Hildegard’s theology of the feminine is deeply inspiring to me. While writing Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen, I kept coming up against the injustice of how women, no matter how devout they might be, are condemned to stand at the margins of established religion, even in the 21st century. Women priests and bishops are still the subject of controversy in the worldwide Anglican Communion while Pope John Paul II called a moratorium even on the discussion of women priests in the Catholic Church.

Modern women have the choice to wash their hands of organized religion. But Hildegard didn’t even get to choose whether to enter monastic life. The Church of her day could not have been more patriarchal and repressive to women. Yet her visions moved her to create a faith that was immanent and life-affirming, that can inspire people of all faith backgrounds today. Hildegard’s re-visioning of religion celebrated women and nature. Her vision of the universe was an egg inside the womb of God.

Too often religion has been interpreted by and for men. But when women speak their heartfelt spiritual truths, a whole other landscape emerges—one that we haven’t seen enough of.

Hildegard shows how visionary women might transform the most male-dominated faith traditions from within. Under Saint Hildegard’s mantle, we may all become sisters and brothers of Wisdom, our voices moving, as Hildegard’s did, like a feather on the breath of God.

Mary Sharratt’s novel Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2012, Mariner 2013) won the Nautilus Gold Award and was a Kirkus Book of the Year 2012. Visit Mary’s website:

To read other posts in this series click here>>

Invitation to Poetry: The Call to Our True Selves

Brent Bill Poetry Party

Welcome to Poetry Party #72!

button-poetryI select an image (*photo above by Quaker minister Brent Bill) 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 from Thomas Merton and followed up with our Photo Party on the theme of "The Call to Our True Selves." (You are most welcome to still participate).  We continue this theme in our Poetry Party this month.

Thomas Merton's words invite us to consider the sainthood of creation, living into the fullness of their purpose and call. We can refuse this call for ourselves, and often do, but we can also choose to respond to the witness of nature to deepen into who we are.  Write a poem which explores this journey.

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 900 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 Brent Bill

Monk Medicine (a love note from your online Abbess)

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Coole_park_310a20aThe Roses

One day in summer
when everything
has already been more than enough
the wild beds start
exploding open along the berm
of the sea; day after day
you sit near them; day after day
the honey keeps on coming
in the red cups and the bees
like amber drops roll
in the petals: there is no end,
believe me! to the inventions of summer,
to the happiness your body
is willing to bear.

—Mary Oliver

Dearest monks and artists,

The poem above has been shimmering for me, and at first I hesitated to share it here because we are entering the depths of winter in the northern hemisphere. But then I remembered my brother and sister monks in the southern hemisphere, who are experiencing this embrace of light and warmth.  I love that we have a global community and at any moment there is full spectrum of experience.

This poem in praise of rose's gifts shimmered because I have also been praying with Thomas Merton's words for our Community Lectio Divina practice this month where he considers the lake, the hills, the trees, the mountains, and the sea to all be saints, because they each live out their divine call so perfectly.

In my personal practice I have been deepening into the path of herbalism, so grateful for my dear friend and herb mentor Tonja Reichley (for those of you in Denver she has an amazing shop called Moon Dance Botanicals). Merton's quote has invited me to ponder the wisdom of St. Rose and St. Elderberry, St. Clover and St. Dandelion, among many others.

For those of us with northern European roots, we might often find ourselves looking to eastern medicine or native American indigenous paths of healing, when we have our own rich tradition of healing practices which sustained and fortified our ancestors. Even more exciting for me is the way herbalism has a distinctly monastic lineage.  For hundreds of years, monasteries were places of both physical and spiritual healing.  The monks cultivated herbs and crafted medicines to offer to those who were suffering. They were the repositories of this sacred knowledge.

St. Hildegard of Bingen, the patron saint of our contemplative and creative work here at Abbey of the Arts, was also a great healing practitioner.  She wrote a manual of herbs and their healing qualities and her principle of viriditas, or greening power of God, was applied both to the spiritual dimension of life as well as to the body.  She would look at a person with illness and ask where this life force has been blocked. Victoria Sweet describes her own re-imagining of this process in her wonderful book God's Hotel, where she brings Hildegard's practice of medicine to her modern context as a doctor.  This leads her to name "slow medicine" as one of the gifts herbalism has for us.

Slow medicine means not seeking the pill that offers the quick fix, but embracing illness as a journey of healing where nourishment of the body and all its systems play a central role. It means I have to ask myself how the rush and pace of my life, and ways I have neglected my own nourishment, play a part in discernment of what will bring vitality again. In Hildegard's own life, many of her illnesses were the result of her actively resisting the call of God in her life. And while I do not believe we are to blame for our physical ailments, there is still an invitation to deepen into our own healing.  Illness can be its own kind of pilgrimage.
In my exploration of herbalism as a path of healing for both body and soul, I find a kinship to those ancient monks who preserved the wisdom. I find myself contemplating the gifts of "Monk Medicine" on many layers of our lives. I ask myself, How do the practices of these wise monks offer us a path back to alignment with both body and soul?

For Hildegard, she considered the rose to have special virtues, and recommended adding her to all medicines: "Rose is also good to add to potions, unguents, and all medications. If even a little rose is added, they are so much better, because of the good virtues of the rose". I think Hildegard and Mary Oliver would have been kindred spirits, finding the generous blooming of rose as a sign of the joy freely offered to us.

In these darkening days I have been making elderberry syrups, nettle and oat straw infusions, thyme and oregano tinctures, crafting my own herbal tea blends and oils for anointing, and other explorations. In the process I have grown more intimate with these green saints who offer me the gift of nourishment, of moving always toward myself again. I am finding empowerment and intimacy by becoming familiar with these gifts offered to us.

Even herbalism can be practiced from a modern medicine mindset, where we seek the quick fix in a pill, we look for standardized extracts rather than taking in the gifts of the whole plant. We do this in our spiritual practice as well, seeking the one way of praying that will alleviate our unease and anxiety, rather than embracing a whole system and way of being that brings a lifetime of deepening.  In monastic spirituality lectio divina is intimately connected to centering prayer and sitting in silence and solitude, which are also deepened by praying the Hours and gathering in community. Our bodies and our souls hunger for this kind of slow integration.

What if, when your body presents its ache and pain, instead of seizing upon the quick relief, you slowed down, softened into this place of vulnerability, listened for the wisdom beneath the rush of life and fear of growing older. What might that conversation sound like?

Herbalism and modern medicine are not mutually exclusive, as someone with a serious autoimmune disorder, I am grateful for the drugs which have given me quality of life.  And yet those great saints of the green world invite me into another way of being as well. As I listen I hear the call to wholeness, to honor the sacredness of all things, to celebrate the abundance of healing poured forth by the world. Becoming a monk in the world means embracing the many-layered gifts of healing, to know that body and soul are one, to let the greening life force of viriditas flow freely once again.

With great and growing love,


Monk in the World guest post: Wil Hernandez

I first met Wil Hernandez through one of the Spiritual Directors International conferences.  He has an irresistible passion for this work of spiritual formation, direction, and supporting people in listening to the voice of the Spirit at work in the world. He has just launched an exciting new project: CenterQuest School of Spiritual Direction, is a fellow Benedictine oblate, and is the author of a trilogy of excellent books on Henri Nouwen, the third in the series released last year, Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities: A Life of Tension, is especially powerful reading.

Read on for Wil's reflections on being a monk in the world:

wil hernandez 1I’m a proud Oblate of Saint Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, California! After five faithful years of attending a monthly Oblates group in the San Fernando Valley area, I finally professed my vow during the Feast of Saint Benedict last March of 2012. I’ve always wanted to be an Oblate and have dreamt about the occasion of my final oblation as one of the sacred moments of my own spiritual journey. There I stood on that special day, in front of a few close friends, vowing to live by the Rule of Saint Benedict as a layperson in the world. It was a highly emotional moment for me, even as I confidently took on the name of St. John of the Cross (Juan de la Cruz in Filipino and Spanish) as my Oblate’s name.

Little did I expect that in less than three months after that glorious event, I would plunge into my own version of my dark night experience that would haunt me for the remainder of that year. I could not, for the life of me, make sense of such seemingly ironic twist of fate. Admittedly, it even made me seriously question why in the first place I chose John of the Cross as my saint of preference. Why did I become an Oblate to begin with?

Wil Hernandez ValyermoIt all started in early 2004! Through the encouragement of my former spiritual director—a long time Benedictine monk at Valyermo—I was privileged to be admitted to the Abbey for a period of six months (in and out) while I worked on my dissertation writing on the spirituality of Henri Nouwen. I was given a special room up on the hill, separated from all the rest, to concentrate on my work. I remembered how, each time the bell rung for the observance of the liturgy of the hours, I’d hesitate to come down to join the monks at the chapel for fear that it would break my momentum for writing. Grudgingly, I’d make my way down with a tinge of guilt, thinking it was the least I could do for the incredible hospitality extended to me by the monks. Slowly, but surely, I found myself being drawn in over time by the beauty of the liturgy. My day would seem incomplete if I missed one of the prayer offices. Without me realizing it, I gradually fell in love with the rhythm of it all and even begun to experience in more ways than one the transforming power of the liturgy in my own life. It’s not an exaggeration to mention that my regular participation in the liturgy was what inspired and sustained my otherwise unexciting writing process. I was so impacted by the whole routine that I found myself eagerly appropriating the practice on my own even after I was done with my stay at the Abbey. To this day, I rarely miss praying the Lauds first thing in the morning and ending my evening with the Compline.

Now back to my own dark night episode: It’s actually been a while now since that unwanted experience occurred. Looking back, I do have a clue as to how it all happened. Soon after my oblation, I found myself deeply immersed in the busyness of my work, which only led to my sense of coming unglued as a person—experiencing fragmentation more than integration. Before I knew it, when I was confronted with all sorts of challenges connected with my job, I was far from being in a stable state of groundedness. Put it simply, I was caught off guard by the turn of events because I was not as centered as I should be.  I became susceptible to everything that was opposite of anything identified with harmony, balance, stability; I was completely decentered and I did not even know it.

In retrospect, the one valuable interior lesson I learned through my painful “dark night” has to do with the vital role of presence and its direct relationship with a life of centeredness. Suffice it to say, I lost my footing because I lost my own center. For me, being a monk in the world is staying fully centered in God, experiencing a profound sense of at-homeness and interior stillness despite the outside chaos that may surround us at any time. I keep reminding myself, as simple as it may sound, that the rhythm of the prayer liturgy, is foremost, my lifeline for sustained experience of centeredness. And each time I find myself again on the edge of succumbing to the tyranny of busyness, of entering into my cluttered and occupied space, that I need to leave room for God to have the rightful place in the Center of it all. When I fail (and I bet I will continue to do so), I just need to reclaim the Benedictine saying: “Always we begin again!”

Wil Hernandez CQWil is the author of a trilogy on Henri Nouwen: Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection, Henri Nouwen and Soul Care: A Ministry of Integration, and the most recent Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities: A Life of Tension. He is also the founder and president of CenterQuest (CQ) – an ecumenical hub for the study and practice of Christian spirituality (

CQ is launching the inaugural cohort for its School of Spiritual Direction (SSD) in the fall of 2014. Early applications are now being accepted. Check out:




Invitation to Photography: The Call to Our True Selves

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 reading from Thomas Merton, this image of what it means to become a saint kept shimmering for me, and the image of creation as witness to this call to be myself.

What if we could receive the trees and rivers and creatures as wise guides about what it means to truly embrace ourselves? What can they teach us about not refusing our divine call? How might their witness reveal new dimensions of my own sense of self?

With our overall theme of the year at the Abbey as discernment, I love the possibility of exploring how creation can remind us of what is most essential, can call us back to our true selves.

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 the true self 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 "The Call to Our True Selves" 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>>

Winner of free book drawing

On Monday I shared Ken Peterson's monk in the world guest post and there was a drawing included for a free copy of his new book Prayer as Night Falls: Experiencing Compline.  The lucky winner is Pacia Dixon!  Pacia, send me your snail mail and we will arrange for your copy to be sent out.