Monk in the World guest post: Marcia Chadly

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Marcia Chadly's wisdom on the gifts of contemplative drawing for becoming a monk in the world:

And it was Good

marcia chadly  Circled Cross 2014Contemplative drawing is one of my favorite practices as a Monk in the World.  The story of contemplative drawing in my life is a creation story.  Spending time with this practice recreated my life.   Each drawing time is also a creation story.  The blank page becomes filled with color and form that brings meaning and life.

About 10 years ago I was in the process of reconnecting to myself and rediscovering my inner voice.  After a major life transition, I was refashioning my life.  There had been a time in the darkness of unknowing and now light was starting to appear.

I noticed a weekend art retreat at a Benedictine abbey and signed up without a clue that the weekend would be a turning point for me.  Along with meeting a nun for the first time :-), I found a process that would bring forth life for me.

marcia chadly Life Spiral 2014The retreat was an introduction to contemplative drawing with oil pastels.  Each drawing session began with a brief discussion and then a meditation to transition out of linear thinking into art making contemplation.  There was incense to let our noses know it was time to make art, music to let our ears know it was time to make art, the feel of the paper to let our bodies know it was time to make art, and the sight of the colors to let our eyes know it was time to make art.  What a wonderful release into the blank, empty page – with reassurance from the instructor that we already knew what to draw without plan or thought or worry.

marcia chadly mandala Aug 2011The empty page is an opening for creation.  Planning or thinking limits what will appear. Because there is no way to be detailed and picky with the oil pastels, there is a freedom.  This is playtime; smear the colors around and get your fingers dirty play.  Drawing is all about the experience of watching the colors transform on the paper.  A time to see that colors change depending on what other colors are around.  This is an experience of layering color on top of color to bring results that are influenced by all the layers.   The final picture is enjoyed as much for the process of expression that created it as the final image.

The time spent in contemplation, the process of the drawing, and the drawing created are all paths to my inner voice.  Exactly what I was intentionally seeking!  Little by little I connected to my inner wisdom and to myself.

marcia chadly Moon Flower 2009 smallThat first retreat led to others and to contemplative drawing on my own.  At first my oil pastel playtime was a much-needed break and time to clear my mind from daily living.  Soon I began to see parallels between the two.  The experiences of my life are layered on top of each other, being influenced by the layers underneath.  I started noticing when the trap of valuing the end result rather than the journey caught me.  I understood that the more I could "play" with life, letting go of expectations and trying things with the knowledge that mistakes were wonderful and led to new things, the more I was free to live and enjoy life.   Beyond the self-connection I was seeking, this practice opened me up to a new way of being in the world.  I was being recreated as a Monk in the World.   And I saw that it was good.

Marcia Chadly Head Shot 2012Marcia Chadly is a lover of color, creativity, and community; she appreciates the sacred space found in all of them.  Marcia values self-knowledge, growth, and renewal as key to living the life calling you and as a stepping stone to being in community with and in service to others.  She lives that value as Director of the Creative Life Center in the Denver Metro area of Colorado.  The Creative Life Center offers a variety of classes and events to support you from where you are to where you want to grow.  Visit to learn more.

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

Invitation to Dance: Harvesting the Inner Garden

We continue our theme this month of "Harvesting the Inner Garden" which arose from our Community Lectio Divina practice with the parable from the Gospel of Mark and continued with this month's Photo Party and Poetry Party.

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

  • Begin with a full minute of slow and deep breathing.  Let your breath bring your awareness down into your body.  When thoughts come up, just let them go and return to your breath. Hold this image of "Harvesting the Inner Garden" as the gentlest of intentions, planting a seed as you prepare to step into the dance.
  • Play the piece of music below ("Seven Seas" by Lisa Gerrard – Please visit her site and enter your email to get the song for free.) 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.

*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.

The Soul's Migration: Where Will You Fly? (latest Patheos column)

Fin and feather, flesh, blood and bone: the earth calls its creatures to leave the familiar, turn again into the unknown; to move steadily and continuously and at great risk toward an invisible goal, expending great energy with the possibility of failure… —Marianne Worcester

I write these words from the shores of Cape May, NJ where I am leading a retreat. Cape May is a resting place for weary souls seeking renewal and refreshment. It is also the resting place for Monarch butterflies as they make their long migratory journey to Mexico.

In Galway, Ireland, where I live, the mighty River Corrib rushes through the city with great vigor, connecting its source, Lough Corrib, with its destination, the great Atlantic Ocean. Each year the salmon here make their own migration, returning to the lake that was their birthplace, traveling from as far away as Canada.

Seattle salmon make a similar journey and the Native peoples have an annual homecoming ceremony for them. In the Skagit Valley, north of Seattle, I have stood on a midwinter's day and witnessed thousands of swans and geese landing in a field, also on their own movement toward an invisible goal. In Alaska are the pods of Humpback whales who feed off the nutrient rich waters all summer and gain sustenance, and then return to warmer seas to give birth in the winter.

Click here to continue reading>>

Monk in the World guest post: Patricia Kowal

This week in our Monk in the World guest post series we have a beautiful poem from fellow monk Patricia Kowal who lives in Spokane, WA. Read on for her wisdom:

Mystic Within

Compassion, Compass, Passion
Contained in the Mystic-Within
Connected to Love, guided with Love, directed in Love
Flowing through one to another.

The mystic—once hidden under the rubble of past hurts
Covered in costume to protect the vulnerable heart
Now guided in Pure Love and Purpose.

 The summons is clear:
Come with me.
See beyond the protective dress
Nestle close to the tender heart of Mystery.
I am the Mystic Within.

Patricia KowalI offer spiritual direction and embrace and support walking the spiritual path.  I am a published author of fiction and non-fiction and write poetry to offer balm to the soul. I free-lance counseling skills as a group leader for Onsite Workshops in Tennessee which fosters growth and recovery from painful life experiences and am a retired Registered Nurse.

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

Invitation to Poetry: Harvesting the Inner Garden

Rhine grapes

Welcome to Poetry Party #79!

I select an image (the photo above is by Christine Valters Paintner) 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 with a parable from the Gospel of Mark and followed up with our Photo Party on the theme of the "harvesting the inner garden." (You are most welcome to still participate).  We continue this theme in our Poetry Party this month. What are continuing to discover about your own inner harvesting?

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 2200 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.

Monk in the World guest post: James Sargent

This week in our Monk in the World guest post series we have a reflection from fellow monk James Sargent. Read on for his wisdom:

James Sargent 1.jpegI was brought up in a Christian home.  For that I have always been truly thankful. To the age of about 40, I considered myself a committed believer, attending church spasmodically. As the years went by religion slipped out of my life until by the age of about 65, my attitude had hardened into radical atheism. 
Now at 84, I’m picking up the spiritual threads of my earlier years.  Two gifted and loving wives – now both passed on, have been blissful partners in my life's journey. Looking inwardly, now at a not so spritely 84 years, I live comfortably in a bachelor flat. Three months on from Christine's wonderful Lenten Pilgrimage, I confess to a rather ragged personal prayer life, plenty of silence (solitude) with patchy meditation, struggles with short term memory, regular eucharists, periods of doubt, plentiful magical moments, holding the tensions between.  My end of term report might say – ’Some progress; you need to be more focussed!…. but go gently…you can always begin again. (Christine!)'   Looking outwardly – life in the world. Mine is a low-level spirituality, but I try to keep myself open to receiving and reflecting God’s grace, breathing in the sustaining air of the Divine Presence in which we all live. This means a Brother Lawrence approach, simply expressed by George Herbert – 'Teach me, my God and King, / In all things Thee to see, / And what I do in anything / To do it as for Thee.’

James Sargent 2I have played a conflict resolution role in our resident's association, and fallen into leading an arts development group for the enhancement of our shared spaces, based on images I have ‘received' from our immediate neighbourhood. I walk with camera at the ready, expecting the unexpected……….I spotted this pearl of wisdom yesterday from a sports shop window –  I go to weekly watercolour classes, enjoying also the social aspect of being in a group.  I'm experiencing what an enlivening thing it is to mine the rich seams of spiritual insights that practising the arts can hold for me. Letting go – allowing a line to take me for a walk, instead of controlling all the time.  Taking risks – releasing the watercolour to find its own way often surprises and excites me.   Working/playing on the edge is often where the true beauty is to be found. Sometimes I experience a feeling of being taken over by a greater power.  Not only are these valid spiritual experiences in themselves, but they point me towards the deeper  manifestations of God’s Grace that enter my life when I practice meditation – relaxing, letting go, and allowing The Spirit to inform me.   Just as the stroke of a loaded brush embodies the creative impulse of the painter, so a well turned vocal or instrumental phrase can embody, as well as re-create, the musical thought of the composer.  Have you ever watched a flute player?   My parting shot in active choral singing was in Bach’s St Matthew Passion last Easter.  It was a forceful reminder of the towering spirituality of Bach’s work, and how deeply it can penetrate my innermost being.

James Sargent 3Influences have been (and are) – Brother Lawrence, David Steindl-Rast, whose book ‘Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer’ somehow gave me a praying voice, Richard Rohr’s ‘The Naked Now’ that opened new doors about living in the present, despite his idiosyncratic style! And I like the directness and simplicity of 'Quaker Faith and Practice'.  My mentor and friend feeds me on strong meat, suggesting – TS Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’ and Richard Holloway’s bracing ‘Crossfire’. Two poems that have been with me for many years are Francis Thomson’s  ‘The Hound of Heaven', and Donne’s  ‘Batter my heart three person’d God’

For the record, I founded the East Cornwall Bach Choir (1965), and Cornwall Youth Orchestra (1970).  Since retiring I’ve led the formation of two charitable trusts – Music & Dance Education (1989), Arts for Health Cornwall & Isles of Scilly (2000) This charity aims to improve health and well being through creativity.   It gives me considerable satisfaction to know that they are all currently thriving, are providing inspirational creative experiences, are developing spiritual awareness, and are potential channels of grace for receptive participants. I retain strong links with them.  For everything, I’m deeply grateful!

James Sargent was born in the East of England in 1929 and taught Secondary School class music there for 10 years. A move in 1964 brought him westwards to Truro in Cornwall as County Education Adviser for Music. Dance and Drama were added to his brief from 1987.  He retired in 1992 and still lives in Truro.

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

Feast Day of Hildegard of Bingen (a love note from your online Abbess)

St Hildegard

In honor of the Feast of St. Hildegard I share a reprise of a poem I wrote in her honor (and a new reflection below):

St. Hildegard Strolls through the Garden

Luminous morning, Hildegard gazes at
the array of blooms, holding in her heart
the young boy with a mysterious rash, the woman

reaching menopause, the newly minted widower,
and the black Abbey cat with digestive issues who wandered
in one night and stayed.  New complaints arrive each day.

She gathers bunches of dandelions, their yellow
profusion a welcome sight in the monastery garden,
red clover, nettle, fennel, sprigs of parsley to boil later in wine.

She glances to make sure none of her sisters are
peering around pillars, slips off her worn leather shoes
to relish the freshness between her toes,

face upturned to the rising sun, she sings lucida materia,
matrix of light, words to the Virgin, makes a mental
note to return to the scriptorium to write that image down.

When the church bells ring for Lauds, she hesitates just a
moment, knowing her morning praise has already begun,
wanting to linger in this space where the dew still clings.

At the end of her life, she met with a terrible obstinacy,
from the hierarchy came a ban on receiving
bread and wine and her cherished singing.

She now clips a single rose, medicine for a broken heart,
which she will sip slowly in tea, along with her favorite spelt
biscuits, and offer some to the widower

grieving for his own lost beloved,
they smile together softly at this act of holy communion
and the music rising among blades of grass.

—Christine Valters Paintner

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

In early autumn 2013, I had the great privilege of leading a pilgrimage to the landscape of Hildegard of Bingen with my dear teaching partner Betsey Beckman and the wonderful folks at Spiritual Directors International.

I had been to this place of lush greenness once before the previous autumn, and on that pilgrimage I discovered viriditas in a new way. Viriditas was Hildegard’s term for the greening power of God, sustaining life each moment, bringing newness to birth. It is a marvelous image of the divine power continuously at work in the world, juicy and fecund.

While I expected to see this greening power alive in the vineyards draping the hills, in the beauty of the Rhine river flowing through the valley like a glorious vein of life, and in the forested hill of Disibodenberg where Hildegard spent much of her early life, what I received as gift was the greening that came alive for me in the community gathered.

There is something so powerful about walking in the places that our great mystics and visionaries dwelled, and to feel the wisdom of their teaching in a fully embodied way. However, to do that with an intentional community of fellow pilgrims, each arriving with their own longing and particular love of Hildegard, was a beauty beyond my expectations.

On our pilgrimage, we created a community of modern monks. In my own work, I use the image of being a monk in the world to invite folks into an experience of integrating contemplative practice into the daily tasks of living. The beauty of the monastic mindset, of which Hildegard was deeply shaped and formed, is that it asks us to see the holy in all things, all people, and in the unfolding of time.

We would gather together in the mornings for praying the psalms, in the great monastic tradition of praying the Hours. We entered the psalms through contemporary songs which carried us into their poetry and danced.  I am certain Hildegard would have approved! Throughout our days spent back at the hotel gathering space, which we fondly dubbed our chapel and cloister, we created together through poetry, photography, mandala drawing, and dance.  We would both laugh and weep together as we touched into the wonder of our experience.

On our outings, we received the gifts of these holy sites. We listened in the silence, the way the monks of old would and the way Hildegard surely would have, for the shimmering voice within that so often goes unheard.

Kindred spirits are a gift beyond measure. When we find our tribe, we can feel like we have come home again. We experience the viriditas in our souls, which Hildegard counseled. In that safe space of being met by other pilgrims who also have a love of contemplative practice and creative expression, we are able to start to drop down to a deeper place and let a part of ourselves come alive that we may keep hidden in daily life. We can welcome in the moistening of our souls. This is the greening power of God at work. We find ourselves vital, fertile, alive and saying yes in new ways, affirmed by our fellow companions.

Previous reflections on Holy Hildegard:

Holy Hildegard: A Spiritual Directors Across Time (guest post at the Spiritual Directors International blog)

Hildegard of Bingen (guest post at the Spiritual Directors International blog)

From the Abbey blog

Betsey Beckman and I are beginning plans for a Hildegard pilgrimage in 2016 (probably spring, but dates yet to be determined) – let me know if you are interested! :-)

We also have a self-study retreat with Hildegard of Bingen. Register by September 30th with coupon code Hildegard10 and receive $10 off as a special Feast Day celebration!

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Photo: Dancing Monk Icon by Marcy Hall of Rabbit Room Arts (all 12 icons will be available for sale as prints soon!)


Guest Post on Hildegard of Bingen: Megan Hoyt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invitation to Photography: Harvesting the Inner Garden

Welcome to this month's Abbey Photo Party!

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

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

I invite you for this month's Photo Party to hold these words in your heart as you go out in the world to receive images in response. As you walk be ready to see what is revealed to you as a visual expression of your prayer.

You can share images you already have which illuminate the theme, but I encourage you also to go for a walk with the theme in mind and see what you discover.

You are also welcome to post photos of any other art you create inspired by the theme.  See what stirs your imagination!

How to participate:

You can post your photo either in the comment section below* (there is now an option to upload a file with your comment – your file size must be smaller than 1MB – you canresize your image for free here – choose the "small size" option and a maximum width of 500).

You can also join our Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group and post there. Feel free to share a few words about the process of receiving this image and how it speaks of the harvest for you.

*Note: If this is your first time posting, or includes a link, your comment will need to be moderated before it appears. This is to prevent spam and should be approved within 24 hours.

Monk in the World guest post: Carol Studenka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can I prove this in any way? Not really.

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

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

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

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

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

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