What is of the Essence? (a love note from your online Abbess)

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Dearest monks and artists,

I am delighted to reveal the newest in the dancing monk icon series (by Marcy Hall of Rabbit Room Arts) above of Mary with the Christ child, inspired by the Black Madonna of Czestochowa in Poland. Mary was often depicted with a pear in medieval art, and the pear became significant for my own journey of learning to yield, to let go of my own striving and reaching. (You can read my poem I wrote last July about this here).

In the Catholic church, January 1st is celebrated as the Solemnity of Mary, honoring Mary's motherhood and her essential role in bringing Christ to birth in the world, and our daily invitation to say yes to the ways we are called to holy birthing as well.

I always have some mixed feelings about New Year's Day. Shrouded in "after-Christmas" sales when the liturgical season of Christmas is still underway, raucous parties where people drink too much, and full of marketing for weight loss plans and gym memberships. The message is always about scarcity, telling us we aren't enough as we are, and so we must buy more and do more to feel satisfied with ourselves. The irony is, of course, that this constant grasping never brings deep satisfaction.

And yet there is something archetypal about New Year's Day.  As Richard Rohr describes it, "we celebrate a symbolic rebirth of time." There is something deep in our hearts which are always longing for newness.  For all of our cynicism about the world or ourselves, and our doubt that things will ever change, we also have planted within us the seed of new birth. We anticipate what new thing God will be doing within us. We hope for the opportunity to "begin again" as the Rule of Benedict wisely counsels us. (For more thoughts on the New Year and suggested practices, stop by this article I wrote last year.)

Along with many of you, I have been pondering my word for 2014, letting it choose me. About a month ago, a question began shimmering for me: What is of the essence? I found myself asking this as a discernment question about how to allow myself the time I needed to recover from so much traveling this fall, and to listen deeply for what tasks for work were most calling to me. I didn't have to complete the endless "to do" list, I had to remember what was most important, so that I might be nourished and restored.

It strikes me as very much the question of a monk as well, embracing the heart of simplicity. Asking what is most essential and leaving the rest. The Greek root of the word "monk" is monachos, which means single-hearted. The monk is the one who remembers what is most essential, and this is why I prefer to use the term "monk" for both men and women. The monk focuses on the presence of the sacred in each moment, each thing, each person, each encounter.

The question has been persisting and pursuing me in a series of synchronicities. I participated in a delightful storytelling workshop before Christmas here in Galway, and the facilitator asked that very same question about the stories we were telling: What is of the essence? And remarkably, that question freed me up in new ways around telling stories. I have always resisted considering myself a storyteller because I have such a poor memory for details. But the essence of what I am trying to convey in a story opens up new possibilities.

Two dear friends, in hearing me speak of this question, both thought immediately of plant essences. Herbalism is a practice I have been exploring with much delight this year, one rooted in monastic practices of healing, and in their reflection I heard new layers to the possibilities for this word.

In my daily practice of lectio, as I listen for the invitation my word from the scriptures offers to me, this question seems to keep rising again. This morning I had a dream where I was flying above the atmosphere, basking in the wonder and beauty of the night sky and the immenseness of the universe. Somehow it spoke to me of what is essential, this remembering of beauty and awe. I awoke with this question on my lips yet again.

And so I claim this word "Essence" as my word for 2014, or more appropriately, "Essence" claims me for the year ahead. I open myself to the gifts it will bring forth.

Last year my word was "Breakthrough," a word given in a dream. It revealed itself to be a series of quiet breakthroughs: of learning the grace of yielding I mentioned above, of moving to Ireland and finding a sense of home here and deep kinship to the legacy of monks who have lived and prayed here for hundreds of years, I began writing poetry again more actively and shared it more freely, I invited the Wisdom Council to support me and recognized how essential it is that I ask for the support I need, and we named this community the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks, finally embracing the truth of what we practice.

Has a word for 2014 chosen you yet?  If so, please share it here. If not, subscribe to the newsletter to receive a free 12-day mini-retreat to help your word find you.

What if we approached this rebirth of time from the perspective of generosity toward ourselves? What if we resolved to truly celebrate the incredible goodness of our bodies as the place where the incarnate God comes alive?

If you are one of the women members of our community, I invite you to consider joining us for Coming Home to the Body: A Women's Journey Toward Contemplative Embodiment. New Year's Day has an extra special dimension of newness and rebirth to it as it is also the day of the New Moon. Our course website opens on January 1st with a chance to get to know your fellow pilgrims, and the materials begin on Monday, January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany.  Registration will stay open until January 6th, so please join us!  Instead of making the same tired resolutions, make a commitment to fall in love with your body again, to discover it as a vessel for the sacred. Journey with others hungering for these gifts.

If you are one of the male members of our community, we also have something wonderful in store for you starting January 20th: Exile and Coming Home: Priest, Prophet, Politician, and Poet on the gifts of the Hebrew Scriptures for nourishing a contemplative path in the world.

However you move through this time of newness, may you discover the gifts awaiting you with each breath, may you find yourself already in the presence of the sacred.

With great and growing love,


Photo: Mary, Mother of God dancing monk icon by Marcy Hall of Rabbit Room Arts

Monk in the World guest post: Laurie Klein

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community (you can read the call for submissions here). I got to meet fellow monk and artist/poet Laurie Klein this past fall when she attended the Sacred Rhythms Writing & Movement Retreat. It was a delight to get to know her soulful spirit. Read on for her wisdom:

Romancing the Senses

Blue as Devotion 

Try to love this world, like a secret,

a promise, a sacred tease:

five hundred shades of blue—sea glass or sky,

sapphire, jade, lapis lazuli. Cool hues

play the rogue, retreat from our gaze

while come-hithering, mystical

as the quiet splice of shadows and twilight,

fickle as evening tide, its invocation

foaming like cream on blackberry sand,

every ebbing a benediction.

How many ways can one soul taste

what perfumes the mind,

be it sandalwood, hyacinth, rain?

Scent, you are memory’s journey mate.

Time frays, like next week’s vapor trail;

the past unspools, and there we are

at midnight, still gazing upward.

—Laurie Klein

Of course, some of us are staring into the dark at midnight despite going to bed at nine o’clock. We can’t hush our thoughts long enough to rest.

I try not to envy those who engage stillness (or sleep!) with seeming ease. Hard-wired like a hummingbird, my spirit craves slow times with God throughout the day, a warm wind I can ride a while, to renew vision and strength. I can hover. Even alight. Sustaining day-to-day devotional practice poses the greatest challenge.

Let me unspool a scene from my past: A chronic bustler and hostage to multi-tasking, I am arrested by the idea of praying without ceasing. Call me a monk wannabe. Longing to keep my soul homing heavenward, I learn to seize pockets of time for worship and gradually supersize them.

Then my father’s death plunges me into clinical depression. My life disassembles. Once I’ve finally unearthed my Bible and journal, I lack the energy to locate a working pen. Too sad to read, much less write, I place these things on the kitchen table. Maybe tomorrow.

A week later, I light a lime-cilantro candle and notice deep sighs while penning a prayer. The play of light and scent pierces apathy. This small pleasure beckons me from bed the next day, when I also dial up a Gregorian chant. Something inside me uncoils, breathes. I discover a gel pen draws me to the page because the ink flows; maybe my thoughts will follow suit, as I grope my way toward hope and wholeness. I am romancing my senses, enticing my soul to be present, to immerse in God’s presence, emerge refreshed. Or are these bribes?

When medication finally kicks in, I enroll in calligraphy class. Stroke by stroke, I experience in my body the sinuous beauty of letterforms. An “A” can make the hand sing! Who knew? Soon I am choosing a word or phrase from Psalms that seems to lift off the page. I letter this word in my spiral notebook and doodle around it. It calms the carom of thoughts, once again pinballing through my brain. Lest I forget, I jot the word on post-its and stick them on mirrors, a cupboard, my dashboard. Later, I’ll learn I’ve stumbled into Lectio Divina.

Then my health lurches again; I succumb to disease, enforced stillness. A verse in Isaiah heartens me: “I will give you the treasures of darkness, wisdom stored up in secret places, so that you may know I am the Lord who calls you by name” (Isaiah 45:3). Pay attention, a voice in my spirit whispers.

Again, romancing my senses summons me to the table. I dust off a translucent teacup, ring a sweet sounding bell. Fingers touch these things gently. In the process I am learning to handle myself with care. No bribes, these are “sense incentives.”

Anointing my hands with orange-ginger lotion becomes a prayer. I bless feet that can barely walk by tucking my tools in a basket, adding a few more to counter pesky distractions: a nail file, lip balm, a silk fan. Little rituals evolve. Lavender complexion mist. Poetry. A new devotional book. Whatever might override pain, undergird my intention, and awaken me from a slump goes into the basket. I call it my portable cloister.

Years pass, my body heals. Along the way I become a writer. Now I can move around the house easily and might journal prayers for the world beside a globe in the guestroom, absorb a sunset from the deck, savor new music in the den. The basket goes with me. An overly-busy mind is slowly becoming a sacred enclosure.

When that old hummingbird vibe winds me up, romancing my senses may not be enough. Then I tell myself I can be present and attentive because God was “mindful” first: For he has been mindful of the lowly estate of his servant (Luke 1:48 NIV). The word mindful comes from a Greek verb that’s fun to say: ep-ee-blep’o. Cross-references in the Old Testament amplify its meaning and invitation:

To gaze at, to behold with respect, to discern, to desire,

to search out specifically in worship or prayer, to pay

attention to, to open the eyes, to wake, to stir up the self,

to turn aside and look.      —Strong’s Concordance

Amid the press of modern life, how telling that the one moment we can fully inhabit is one we often sidestep: this one. Anything can happen in an hour, tomorrow, next year. Now is what we have.

If you are reading these words, an unrepeatable presence of Spirit unites us. Never again in history will we, as a group, and as individuals, experience this exact space and time. As fellow monks in the world, may we become storehouses of practical wisdom for others; may we be irresistible sources of delight: portable cloisters.

Blessed are you who open a gate in every moment . . . 

–Leonard Cohen, “Psalm 28,” Book of Mercy

Laurie KleinLaurie Klein's work appears in journals, anthologies, hymnals, and recordings. Winner of the Thomas Merton Prize for Poetry of the Sacred, she also authored the classic praise chorus "I Love You, Lord." A former consulting editor for Rock & Sling, she lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Bill, and a goofy labrador.

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

Christmas Blessings (a love note from your online Abbess)

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Whistler Snow

The Risk of Birth

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour & truth were trampled by scorn-
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn-
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

—Madeleine L'Engle

Dearest monks and artists,

Just a brief note this week to wish you the most joyful of Christmas blessings. As the 17th century German mystic Angelus Silesius wrote: "“I must be the Virgin and give birth to God.”

The heart of the Christian tradition is the incarnation, the belief that God dwells in tender flesh and continues to be birthed again and again.

With this feast we celebrate the risk of birth arising from the impulse of love. In the midst of so much sorrow and suffering in the world, to bring forth our own deepest dreams takes courage. To believe that when we follow the leadings of the Spirit that we can contribute to a world of deeper peace and reconciliation requires hope. To bring forth the vision, the seed of new possibility, demands great love.

May you find yourself inspired by courage, infused with hope, and embraced by love.

With great and growing love,


PS – Don't forget the Give Me a Word for 2014 invitation here!  Share your word by January 6th for a chance to win a prize and if you need support there is a free mini-retreat for subscribing to the Abbey newsletter.

Monk in the World guest post: Teresa Knipper

I am delighted to share our first submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community (you can read the call for submissions here). Teresa Knipper attended our Awakening the Creative Spirit intensive this past fall and it was a delight to get to know her playful spirit and her passion for butterflies. Read on for her wisdom:

Waiting for God in the Deep Midwinter

Teresa 1Recently I was watering my indoor plants and inspecting a late summer acquisition from the bargain rack of my local nursery. I cannot resist rescuing these orphans and trying my hand at coaxing them back to life. "This one's doing pretty well" I noted, spying a few new green leaves. I saw with closer inspection a bump on the leaf that was a butterfly chrysalis. Scouring my resources, I discovered that it was the chrysalis of the Cabbage White, a rather mundane denizen of agricultural fields and gardens that is considered a pest since its caterpillar eats cabbage, broccoli and related crops.

The vision of this beautifully crafted space for incredible transformation intrigued me. How did it get here? Why on this plant? Why would the Creator take such exquisite care to make this small green case for what some would consider a pest? These questions lead me to wonder about the many ways that God makes waiting palpable, possible and even beautiful in the natural world. The bleak winter landscape seems devoid of life and color yet contains buds and possibility for all the new growth of spring. The intermediate stages of many insects can be appreciated for their own beauty just as I had wondered about my little green chrysalis once I noticed and named it.

Teresa 2It seems possible, at times, that our spiritual life can have the same quality of waiting and dormancy.  There are periods of dryness, complacency or non movement in our prayers and contemplations. We can use the lessons from the natural world to learn how to be in what can be the difficult liminal space of waiting. In the winter of my spiritual life can I slow down to notice all that possibility? What about noticing the possibility in my own heart?  Winter spirituality is a time of patience and being present with the possible and perhaps rejoicing in the "not yet": those parts of my deepest self that have not yet been brought to my awareness. My own spiritual practices in the dormant wintertime are quieter and more contemplative.  They may include journaling, or making a midwinter retreat,  taking winter walks crunching over frozen paths or even walking a labyrinth in my backyard made from snow. Many of these practices can engender a quiet and patient anticipation of what is next in store for our souls.

The dark dormancy of midwinter outside can give us a unique context to understand how to wait for those things in our lives that are not yet seen or perhaps even imagined. Waiting is particularly hard for us as high speed internet and data exchange happens at the speed of light.   Is there any point to waiting?? How can we wait?

Henri Nouwen gives us great insight into the nature and holiness of waiting in his work The Spirituality of Waiting.  Nouwen invokes the stories of Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth and Simeon and the Prophetess Anna from Scripture to enlighten us about the sanctity of waiting. These figures are all waiting for the coming of the Christ into the world.  We may think that their vigils were passive, yet Nouwen tells us:

There is none of this passivity in Scripture. Those who are waiting are waiting very actively. They know that what they are waiting for is growing from the ground on which they are standing. That’s the secret. The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun. Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening. A waiting person is a patient person. The word “patience” means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment; in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it.

There is none of this passivity in nature either.  Although we think of a caterpillar as "sleeping” in its chrysalis, in actuality, incredible transformation is occurring. The essential cells and DNA are first breaking down and then being rearranged into a completely different creature. The insect goes from a creature that crawls on the earth or on the leaves of plants to a winged beauty that can take flight and astound the observer with its luminous colors; to the casual observer this is not apparent.

What then is the clue that both Nouwen and nature give us about waiting?  We are to stay present in this moment even though it seems as if nothing is happening. We are to stay actively engaged in what God is presenting to us and surrender to the quiet work of dormancy knowing that it is far from a waste of time. Simeon in Luke’s Gospel knew this. The gospel writer says that, “He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Praying in the Temple daily, Simeon was ready for the Christ because he had been engaged in that holy and hopeful waiting.  He was ready to recognize the Christ when he was presented to him.

As seekers we can cultivate the same kind of readiness that the prophet exhibited by being present to the quiet work of winter spirituality. In the winter when the soil is frozen and unworkable I draw inside to the garden of my heart to till. The journaling and retreats are the compost I add to the garden of my soul.

Just as I let my garden rest, I realize that the dormancy is just as important as the growing and fertilizing.  So it is in my spiritual winter that I can rest in the hope that God is working the soil of my inner soul. In the fallow fields, the earth gathers the nutrients to bring forth nourishment and beauty in the following spring.  Can it be that what may seem as quiet waiting is actually preparation for what is yet to come?

I believe the Creator may have placed that chrysalis on my house plant to remind me that as I wait for the butterfly, I should not miss the beauty of the chrysalis– the undone piece. Just as the Creator takes such exquisite care to craft a vessel for the common butterfly's transformation to its adult stage so God has created the indescribable beauty of the quiet winter landscape in order to facilitate my own deep metamorphosis.

Teresa KnipperTeresa Knipper blends her two passions by both practicing spiritual direction in Princeton NJ and serving as a Master Gardener in her county.  She particularly loves inspiring home owners to create space for wildlife in their own gardens by imparting her own knowledge of butterflies and native plants. Teresa finds God in the most densely populated state in the United States by seeking the wild places that are still there if you seek- even in New Jersey!

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

Invitation to Dance: Holy Waiting

We continue our theme this month of "Holy Waiting" through the practice of dance.

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 "Holy Waiting" 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 ("Breath of Heaven" by Amy Grant, a song about Mary's holy "yes") 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. For this month especially, sit with waiting for the impulse to move and see what arises.
  • 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.

*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.

Prayer for Awakening (a love note from your online Abbess)

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Prayer Upon Awakening

“The breezes at dawn
Have secrets to tell you;
Don’t go back to sleep.”

What force gently lifts back
night’s inky black gown
studded with shimmering stars,

where soot turns to umber,
seawater to crimson,
rose to saffron, and then

to that brilliant morning shade of blue,
spilling forth like the seven silk scarves of
Salome in a dance of revelation?

What is being awakened in you
in that threshold moment,
when a thousand black crows scatter to the west

to chase down the fleeing night,
when the souls of the dead
are said to recede with the evaporating starlight,

when the winds whisper
their secret dreams
for the day ahead?

Are you listening, in those first moments,
to the rustle of Eos’* wings rising in the sky
as she breaks through the fruitful darkness?

Carry all your sorrow from yesterday
in jars of dew, just like her tears over
a son’s broken body torn in two.

Sprinkle them, like holy water,
bathing the fields of possibility
and let your heart awaken once again.

*Eos is the Greek goddess of the dawn whose son Memnon was killed in battle

-Christine Valters Paintner

Dearest monks and artists,

I am not an early riser by nature, but I do love the times when I am awake for the dawn. And so these winter days living at 53° latitude means that the sky does not even begin to get light until eight in the morning and the hour that follows is often a gorgeous display of pink clouds and golden light emerging. In the summer, the sky is only dark for a few short hours at night, and so this wide embrace of darkness is welcome to this winter-loving monk.

Most mornings I arise and begin the day with my yoga practice as a way of moving into the stillness of my body. Then I sit in the silence and witness this spectacle outside my window to prepare my heart for lectio divina. Morning prayer is an ancient monastic tradition. In one of my favorite books of all time, Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day, Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast writes:

"The hours are seasons of the day, and they were originally understood in a mythical way. Earlier generations of our human race, not ruled by alarm clocks, saw the hours personified, encountered them as messengers of eternity in the natural flow of time growing, blossoming, bearing fruit. In the unfolding rhythm of everything that grows and changes on earth each hour had a character and presence infinitely richer and more complex than our sterile clock time."

He goes on to describe the Hours as "the inner structure for living consciously and responsively through the stages of the day" and describes time in this monastic perspective, as the opportunity for encounter. "We live in the now by attuning ourselves to the calls of each moment, listening and responding to what each hour, each situation, brings."

When I first read Brother David's book many years ago it transformed by relationship to the practice of praying the Hours. Suddenly I saw the poetry of them, the grace of honoring each moment's unique invitation, and the gift of welcoming in the energies of rising, fullness, falling, and emptiness as central to my experience of life, but also witnessed in the unfolding of each day. It has helped me to embrace the movements of my life and embrace the times of rest as fully as the times of energy,

I am savoring these morning times of witnessing the sun's rise in her low and gentle arc across the sky. I am listening into the question which morning asks: "What is awakening in you?" And I find myself in kinship with monks, who for hundreds of years have bowed down at this moment in gratitude for another day.

Arising with the dawn and attending to the slow emergence of light, is a beautiful practice for Advent. In these Advent days of waiting and holy anticipation, it is easy to sometimes fall asleep to the real depth and meaning of this sacred season. Beneath the shouts of advertisers and endless marketing and our own scurrying around to fulfill our sense of obligation, there is a quiet miracle happening. God is being birthed into the world again and again. And Advent reminds us this holy birthing is happening in each of us as well.

When Betsey Beckman and I led the Hildegard of Bingen pilgrimage in Germany last September, we began each day praying through our bodies with a musical version of Psalm 23 by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan called All of My Days. Betsey has created a video to guide you through the prayer. You can find it here, just be sure to scroll down the page to #3 Movement Prayer to find it. Let your body celebrate this hour of awakening!

If you are a writer, please consider submitting a guest post to our monk in the world series.

There is a new Poetry Party on "Holy Waiting" at the Abbey and an invitation to share your word for 2014 with the Abbey community with chances to win prizes.

And consider whether you are feeling the call to join us for Coming Home to the Body (an online retreat for women) or Exile and Coming Home (an online retreat for men) in the new year! Both would make a meaningful Christmas gift, when so many of us have too much stuff already. Plus there are discounts when you register 2 or more people together!

With great and growing love,


Monk in the World guest post submissions welcome!

button-monkIf you follow along at the Abbey, you know that over the last six months we have had a great Monk in the World guest post series from fellow monks, authors, bloggers. It has been a gift to read how ordinary people are living lives of depth and meaning in the midst of the challenges of real life.

I have been pondering lately how many talented writers and artists there are in this Abbey community, and so starting in January, we are opening up the series to submissions from YOU. The reflection will be included in our weekly newsletter which goes out to 8000 subscribers.


  • Please click this link to read a selection of the posts and get a feel for the tone and quality.
  • Submit your own post of 750-1000 words on the theme of "How do I live as a monk in the world? How do I bring contemplative presence to my work and family?" It works best if you focus your reflection on one aspect of your life or a practice you have, or you might reflect on how someone from the monastic tradition has inspired you. Alternatively, you are welcome to submit a poem on this theme.
  • Please include a head shot and brief bio (50 words max). You are welcome to include 1-2 additional images if they help to illustrate your reflection in meaningful ways. Please make sure the file size of each the images is smaller than 1MB.
  • We will be accepting submissions between now and January 31st for the first half of 2014.  We reserve the right to make edits to the content as needed (or to request you to make edits) and submitting your reflection does not guarantee publication on the Abbey blog, but we will do our best to include as many of you as possible.
  • Email Christine by January 31st with your submission and include the reflection pasted into the body of your email and attach your photo(s).
  • We will try to be back in touch with you within two weeks of your submission to let you know if edits are needed and/or when we have scheduled your post to appear.

Invitation to Poetry: Holy Waiting

Augustine Baron - Photo Party - Holy Waiting

Welcome to Poetry Party #73!

button-poetryI select an image (*photo above by Augustine Baron) 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 Visio Divina practice with a beautiful piece of art from Mary Southard and followed up with our Photo Party on the theme of "Holy Waiting." (You are most welcome to still participate).  We continue this theme in our Poetry Party this month.

An essential aspect of listening for what is being birthed through us is waiting, watching, listening, being. The photo above, shared by fellow monk in the world Augustine Baron at this month's Photo Party, shimmers with the sacredness of ordinary moments of waiting. Waiting on a bench for the bus to come, waiting at the dentist's office, waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting for the results of a medical test, waiting to hear about a new job. Write a poem which celebrates these ordinary kinds of holy waiting.

You can post your poem either in the comment section below*or you can join our Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group (with more than 1000 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.

Give Me a Word 2014: Fifth Annual Abbey Giveaway

Share your Word for 2014

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

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

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

Share your word in the comments section below by Monday, January 6, 2014 and you are automatically entered for the prize drawing (prizes listed below). Last year we had 840 people share!

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

This year I am offering all Abbey newsletter subscribers a gift: a free 12-day online mini-retreat with a suggested practice for each day to help your word choose you and to deepen into your word once it has found you.

Sign up here and you can start your mini-retreat today. Once you subscribe you will receive a confirmation email with access to the mini-retreat content (and you are free to unsubscribe at any time).  If you are already a subscriber, the invitation will be in this week's email newsletter.

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

I am delighted to offer some wonderful gifts from the Abbey:

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

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

Monk in the World guest post: Judy Smoot

I've known Judy Smoot for several years now, first connecting through Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist, then several other online classes, and finally the pleasure of spending time with Judy in person at our Awakening the Creative Spirit intensive.

Judy is a fellow Benedictine oblate, a spiritual director, a lover of the expressive arts, and the founder and director of Always We Begin Again, a nonprofit dedicated to serving those with chronic illness and their caregivers through contemplative and creative programs. I am delighted to share Judy's wisdom here with this community on being a monk in the world:

“Acquire a peaceful spirit and thousands around you will be saved.”

 – St. Seraphim of Sarov

Judy SmootFor reasons I did not understand at the time, this gentle piece of wisdom intersected my life in 2007 and became my heart’s desire.  At that time, six years ago, I had no idea what “a peaceful spirit” would come to mean in my own faith journey, nor what would be undone and recreated in my spirit to acquire this peaceful spirit for myself and others.

Since 2007, I completed training for spiritual direction and began companioning others personally and through retreat work.  I discovered St. Benedict and committed to the Oblate way of life, resigned a long-time staff position in a church, began a nonprofit ministry, and enrolled in an expressive arts program — all amidst our son returning from 2-1/2 years serving with the Peace Corps, gaining a beautiful and caring daughter-in-law, companioning my father as he left his human life on earth, and navigating various medical issues that come with age.  All of these transitions have resulted in relationships ending and new ones beginning, old habits released and life-giving practices welcomed — the shedding of the old to make way for the new has been terribly painful at times.  In retrospect, I am pretty certain I would not have entered into this turmoil of life-giving change had it not been forced upon me in quite a few instances.  As I reflect on how I “handled” all of this life change (and how it “handled” me some days), I am not entirely confident calling myself monk, mystic, or contemplative.  I recall the heat of the fire that surrounded me on some days and don’t remember feeling at peace or grounded in all the uncertainty.  Is this mindfulness and truth-telling part of what makes one contemplative ?

In January 2010, I began Way of the Monk Path of the Artist.  As an introduction, we were invited to offer a six-word autobiography.  Six words.  Can’t be done.   It could be a long retreat experience and doubt began to creep in. I wondered if this was the place in which I was to settle for 12 weeks.    Once I moved past the initial resistance, the words came quickly — “Contemplative seeking to offer spacious sanctuary.”  I have come to appreciate the word, “seeking”.  WOTM was exactly where I needed to be.  In 2011, Awakening the Creative Spirit confirmed I was beginning a journey toward something of significance.

Like some of you, I have redefined my understanding of what it means to be a monk.  I also have redefined “artist” – neither being attributes I would have assigned to myself even a few years ago, but characteristics that I now claim as part of my soul’s story.   As I have entered more deeply the process of “naming and claiming” (also known to me as “taking personal responsibility – ugh), the Contemplative Seeking to Offer Spacious Sanctuary has become a fully alive person living as a monk in the world.

I spend a lot of time tethered to a very non-contemplative computer.  As I write this, I am waiting for a call from a computer programmer about web updates I am unable to do on my own.  As director for this new nonprofit, I must squeeze in my first love of serving people simultaneous with board development, creating a strategic plan, fund raising, maintaining blogs and Facebook accounts — all of the details that support the end result of programming for those we serve.  I try to create a somewhat contemplative work space in which all of this can occur.  But, as I look around, my immediate space is, frankly, a mess.  I am fully in the world.  Yet, I sense the monk expanding within me.

The Abbey supported me in establishing my Rule of Life in 2010.  It reads,

I choose to live:

true to my authentic self;


simply and without hurry;

within supportive communities;


with abandon and confidence; and

as a mystic living in the world.

Some days (months), I do this well.  Others, not so much.  It is life’s ebb and flow.   My desire to live mindfully and truthfully keeps me in a seeking mode.  The constant change of life’s circumstances keeps me humbly reliant on God’s provision.  God’s peace is not the same as the world’s peace.  That is important for me to remember.  Often, God’s peace is not a warm, fuzzy, feel good sensation as much as a strong anchor holding me secure during raging storms of uncertainty and risk taking as I continue to walk the edges of life pushing out to the horizon (my word for 2013).

Judy Smoot 1.JPGIn 2005 I was blessed to travel to San Francisco with my husband for a five-day work trip he had in the area.  We found ourselves returning repeatedly to Grace Cathedral and its labyrinths.  I now realize that the monk began to push herself into my world during that trip.  My husband took the below picture as I walked the outdoor labyrinth.  The poem followed a short time later.  Patience.  Contemplation.   Risk-Taking.  Trust.  Prayer.  Truth.  Simplicity.  Community.   The peaceful spirit has taken root within me.  As it has become authentic for me, it spills into the lives of others seeking a sanctuary, seeking a refuge from the chaos that we all live within.  Are lives saved as a result?  I cannot say for sure.  But I do trust that God works with my meager offering, and isn’t that enough for each of us to offer as monks in the world?

Thank you for hearing my story.


The Way is Made by Walking

She walks a labyrinth path
to enter the soft, strong sanctuary of her soul
Ideas and images weave with joyful abundance
through the channels of her heart
seeking their voice in one word of simplicity.
Freedom takes flight as she contemplates “what if?”,
and wonders of God’s invitation for a “sacred yes.”
Compassion for the least of these rises from her
deep silence with the Holy One.
The word,

Judy Smoot is a Benedictine Oblate, spiritual director/retreat leader, and founder of the non-profit ministry Always We Begin Again providing spiritual care for people living with a chronic diagnosis and those who support them on their journey.   She is a 2007 graduate of the Columbus-based spiritual direction program, Wellstreams, and is currently a student at Expressive Arts Florida Institute in Sarasota, Florida.  She enjoys facilitating creative-based experiences for those desiring to express their faith and prayer life through expressive art.  Judy and her husband are currently following their dream to live more simply and close to nature by building a woodland cottage for themselves and visiting friends and family about 50 miles from where they currently reside.   They anticipate a spring 2014 move.