Monk in the World guest post: Rachel Regenold

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community.  Read on for Rachel Regenold's wisdom about the power of rhythm to bring more presence to life:

Drumming Myself into the Present Moment

I have frequently read about the power of being present as a means to live a more peaceful, contemplative life. Yet, I find myself whining, “Isn’t there an easier way?” While on retreat in the fall I succumbed to the beauty of being present when I didn’t have to worry about the details of everyday life. But when I returned to my regular life and its demands I wondered how to continue being present.

A few weeks after my retreat I invited my friend Becky to join me at an African drumming class held at a local shop. The sound of drums calls to something deep within my soul. As we stepped into the classroom, I tried to tuck away my fears about the fact that I have absolutely no rhythm, can’t dance, and can’t play an instrument.

We joined a group of seven women who had apparently been meeting regularly and drumming for years. Years. We were the only beginners, having drummed only once before on a retreat where we became friends four years ago. Everyone was kind and welcoming, but as Linda, the instructor, brought out the drums I began to sweat. She placed a Djembe drum in front of me. “This is Hairy Dragon,” she said. Hairy Dragon was aptly named as there was a dragon carved in the dark wood of its base and a ring of coarse hair just below the lip of the graying goat skin stretched across the top.

Linda advised us to take off all watches, rings, and bracelets so as not to damage the drums, and began by showing us the three different hand placements we would use – bass, slap, and tone. The bass was a flat palm to the center of the drum with the fingers touching each other – BOOM. I quickly lost track of the difference between a slap and a tone, knowingly only that my fingertips struck closer to the edge of the drum for both.

The other women began playing easily as the instructor taught us four different rhythms. Me and Hairy Dragon got off to a rocky start. I struggled to follow, feeling like I’d just been plopped into the middle of a foreign country and didn’t know a word of the local language. The instructor saw me stumbling and tried different ways of encouraging me, even telling me a mnemonic about elephants running to help me remember one of the rhythms. Usually a person who clings to words, I couldn’t keep the “elephants running” mnemonic in my head; the words would not align themselves with the motions my hands were supposed to be making.

After a few minutes of gentle attempts at instructing me, Linda wisely asked, “Would it be easier if I just shut up?”

I nodded “yes” gratefully.

I shook out my hands at my sides and closed my eyes, hoping that just listening to the others drumming for a bit would help me catch the rhythms. Instead, my brain began downloading every bad memory connected to my rhythm deficiency. There was the time my best friend – a drummer in the school band – snapped at me because I couldn’t march in time to “Pomp & Circumstance” at our high school graduation. And my drill sergeant’s frequent display of disgust at my inability to march in time with everyone else in basic training. Why did I sign up for this hour and a half of torture?

But then I opened my eyes, put my hands on Hairy Dragon, and somewhere in that first hour I started to get it. Just a little bit. By giving a name to the hand movement in my head as I made the movement, I was better able to keep up. I just ignored “slaps” all together; everything became a “tone” or “BOOM” in my mind. I particularly relished the “BOOM” of my flat palm striking the center of the drum.

After the instructor taught us all four rhythms, she broke us up into twos or threes so that each pair or trio was playing one rhythm as the other pairs and trios played the other three rhythms. I don’t think it was a coincidence that Linda started my trio off with the only rhythm I had sort of figured out.

Tone-Tone BOOM Tone-Tone Tone-Tone BOOM-BOOM.

As we rotated the rhythms each pair or trio was drumming, they began to come to me more easily. I also discovered that the moment my mind flickered away for just a second I lost the rhythm and struggled to get back into it. Ditto with questioning myself – “Do my booms and tones sound like everyone else’s?” – and criticizing myself – “I will never be good at this.” Instantly, I lost track of where I was and had to pause to regroup, watch someone next to me for a bit, and then slowly work my way back into the rhythm. I even tested my theory, thinking about what I’d do after class just to see what happened. Yep, rhythm lost.

Being fully present was the only way to keep my rhythm going. I turned off my chattering monkey mind and focused solely on my hands touching Hairy Dragon’s hide. In the final rotation of rhythms, my trio got the fourth one – the “elephants running” one – and my heart sank.

BOOM-BOOM BOOM Tone-Tone BOOM BOOM BOOM. Slowly, I got it.

I only fell out of rhythm a few times, straining to remain present so I could actually drum the rhythm, hugging Hairy Dragon between my knees and booming with relish.

When we finished Linda looked at me, “Wow, when you get it, you get it.”

Yes, I finally get it. Being present is the only way I can stay in rhythm, both in drumming and in life. The moment I dwell on the past, fret about the future, or allow self-doubt or criticism to creep in, the rhythm of my life is lost.


Rachel RegenoldRachel Regenold is a seeker, writer, and yoga practitioner in Iowa, where she lives with her four-legged children.  She enjoys blogging about finding meaning in everyday life at www.iowaseeker.com.

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

 

Creative Joy (a love note from your online Abbess)

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Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

This week I have finally been able to give some attention to adding a lesson to the Monk in the World e-course on the 8th principle of the Monk Manifesto which reads:

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

I share some of the reflection here this week as a reminder for each of us to practice gratitude, contentment, good zeal, and cultivate the creative joy, freedom, and love which we are called to embrace as part of being a monk in the world.

“What is more delightful than this voice of the Holy One calling to us? See how God’s love shows us the way of life.”
—Rule of Benedict Prologue 19-20

“But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.”
—Rule of Benedict Prologue 48-49

After writing the first seven principles of the Monk Manifesto, a couple of years passed, and then I was inspired to add the 8th principle above. In that time I had been deepening into the gifts of dance and embodiment, and discovering there a source of deep joy which always brought me back to Benedict’s invitation.

Whether we dance literally or metaphorically, the dance is a symbol for forgetting our self-consciousness and letting ourselves be overcome with the joy and love that beat at the heart of everything. Our whole purpose in following a spiritual path and nurturing these practices in our lives is to expand our inner freedom which expands our capacity for loving the world.  As we release the hold of expectations and disappointments, as we stop trying to live into the imagined life and live the one we have been given, we discover a profound inner freedom to make choices out of love, rather than obligation or resentment.

In Chapter 72 of the Rule, Benedict describes two kinds of zeal. There is the wicked zeal of bitterness and cynicism which spreads its venom through communities with rapid ease. But there is also “the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love.” This kind of zeal also can have a profound impact on those we encounter. The monk in the world is called to become conscious of the kind of zeal he or she sows in the world. Is it bitterness and resentment? Or love and cherishing?

This does not mean as a monk in the world that you need to always be happy. Far from it. Joy is not the same thing as happiness, but tapping into a deep well of love. Joy is deep and abiding presence, whereas happiness is a fleeting quality.

Our capacity for joy is in proportion to our capacity for sorrow, so the more we resist our grief, the more we also resist the treasure of joy available to us in abundant measure. Not the bitterness and resentment that Benedict counsels us to avoid, but the deep wells of sorrow we each carry within our hearts over losses and brokenness, betrayals and wounding. Following our principle of inner hospitality, we are called to welcome in these feelings, and in the process we carve out space for joy and love as well.

In St. Benedict’s description of humility, he says the 6th step is contentment. Contentment is one of those principles we find in other traditions as well. In yogic practice it is called santosha, and both mean a commitment to be with the truth of our experience and find a measure of peace and joy with what you have. Contentment helps us to let go of our expectations for what might be and to rest in the grace of what is.

Finding contentment with this moment is a very monastic practice and opens us to the possibility of joy. One of the definitions I sometimes give for an artist is that the artist creates out of the materials given. When we can live our lives in such a way that we accept the truth of our situation, and then seek to create from it, whether beauty or more peace or a way of honoring the grief, then we become artists of our everyday lives. The artist does not wait for some better materials to come along first. The artist does not say, I will only dance when I am thinner or healthier.

I describe this as creative joy, because we most often tap into it when we are engaged in creative activity like art or dance, or when we are in the midst of nature witnessing the Great Artist at work. But we can also access creative joy in the midst of friendship, when we find our way through conflict to a deeper sense of intimacy. Or through cooking a beautiful meal with the ingredients we have on hand. Or discovering that in the midst of our tenderness and vulnerability comes a great softening which allows us to finally ask for the support we need.

At Abbey of the Arts we nourish both the contemplative and creative, because we believe both are essential. We cultivate a sense of inner silence and spaciousness to receive the creative insights and inspirations that are our birthright. The more we allow this into our lives, the more vibrancy and vitality we discover.

If you want to subscribe to the newsletter subscriber and receive access to the whole Monk in the World e-course you can go to this link to register. We do ask that you consider making a donation to the Earth Monastery Project in exchange for the materials, but if you are unable to afford anything, you are still welcome to participate in the course.

Do check out our Invitation to Dance for this month on the theme of soul friend and our latest Monk in the World guest post by fellow monk Jason Jones.

I am also excited to announce that prints of the dancing monk icons are now available! Orders must be placed before March 17th.

If you want to journey through Lent in a soulful way, join us for our online retreat on pilgrimage which begins next week!

With great and growing love,

Christine

Invitation to Dance: Soul Friend

button-dance

We continue our theme this month of "Soul Friend" through the practice of dance (please visit our Community Lectio Divina practice, Invitation to Photography, and Invitation to Poetry which all explored this theme for February).

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 the theme of soul friend gently in your awareness, 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. A soul friend can help us listen to our own deep and wise voice within. Let dance be your soul friend today.
  • Play the piece of music below ("Listen to the Voice" by Chloe Goodchild – to receive a free mp3 version of this song subscribe to the Naked Voice email newsletter) 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. 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, phrase, or image that could express what you encountered in this time? (You can share about your experience, or even just a single word or image 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.

Monk in the World guest post: Jason Jones

I am delighted to share another submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Jason Jones' wisdom about listening with the ear of our hearts.:

Hospitality of Listening

“He listens,” is what a new friend told me when we were both on retreat together.  We both had daily times to visit with a retreat leader, and my friend asked how my session went.  “Good,” I told him.  “It was good.  How about you?”  “He listens,” is how my friend replied.  The two words he listens said there was hospitality, openness, welcome, and safety in that time.  My friend’s story and presence were welcomed in the listening.  I had the same experience; I was welcomed in the listening.

A month ago I called a monastery, asking about scheduling a visit.  The monk who answered my call checked the dates to make sure there was room and said, “Yes, you can come.”  He didn’t ask for my biography or references, and he didn’t question me to make sure I was their type of person before welcoming me; it was only “Yes, you can come.”  I asked if I needed to make a deposit to secure my place, “No,” he said, “we’ll hold your place for you.  Just come.”  He was honoring the basic instruction in The Rule of St. Benedict that says, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”[1]  I know when I arrive at the monastery there will be a room and a bed and a place at their table and a welcome into the monk’s life of prayer.  It’s a basic practice of hospitality, something that is part of the regular life of monastic communities.

Living as a monk in the world means hospitality is a part of our experience, too.  We welcome the guest as we would welcome Christ, and this can be lived out in an open place at a dinner table or with a welcome to a guest room in our homes, but it can be practiced, too, in the gift of listening.  Hospitality is shown when we consciously listen. Whenever we listen to another we show welcome to the guest.

Listening is not natural for most of us.  When we listen we unlock and open the door of our hearts to hear and welcome another.  For a moment we give up control to open ourselves to the experience of another, and that can be frightening.  We resist hearing another’s story because we’re more comfortable with our own perspective.  A friend, jokingly, said it well: “My problem is,” he said, “I think I’m right about most things, and I don’t have time for those who don’t understand how right I am.”  He was teasing, but there was truth there;  it’s hard to set aside our own rightness to hear another.  When we listen, though, we set aside our exclusive claim to the truth so that we might welcome another’s experience.

Although doing it might be frightening, the guest whom we welcome may be the one who brings us the blessing.  The person we listen to, the guest to whom we show hospitality, just might be a hidden angel coming to bless us in our welcome.  Benedict understood this, saying the guest is to be welcomed as Christ.  Benedict said, too, that the poor and the pilgrim should be especially welcomed,  because “in them more particularly Christ is received.”  When we welcome another, we’re to welcome them as we would Christ, because we know this other person is a creation of God, someone in whom God’s love and work and spirit is present.  When we show the hospitality of listening, we’re welcoming into our lives the good things God has brought with that other person.  Even when the other is challenging to us, a generous listen may bring an unexpected blessing.

Listening usually comes with a conscious choice to do it.  We’re more comfortable plugging ourselves up with headphones or staring into our phones.  The open door of a listening ear isn’t always our first impulse.  When we do listen, though, we living out a basic openness that meets another not with suspicion or mistrust but with a monastic hospitality where we welcome whatever blessing he or she might bring.  May there be an open place for the guest at your table and your home but most of all in the openness of your ears so that you might hear and know the blessing brought in your welcome and listening.

[1]Quotes from Benedict come from: Fry, Timothy, ed.  The Rule of St. Benedict in English.  Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1981.


Jason Jones

Jason Jones is the pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Highland, Indiana (www.fcchighland.net ).  He enjoys cooking, running, art-making, and spending an evening with Max, his cat, on his lap.

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

"Please can I have a God" (a love note from your online Abbess)

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Please can I have a God
(after Selima Hill)

not fossilized, hardened, stiff, unshaken,
not contained in creeds and testimonies,
judgments and stone tablets,
but in the wound breaking open.

Please can I have a God
who asks me to worship at the altar of mystery,
to lay aside certainty, and curl up
in the hollow of a great stone down by the river,
to hear the force of it rushing past.

Please can I have a God
with questions rather than answers,
who is not Rock or Fortress or Father,
but sashays, swerves, ripens, rages
at the rape of the earth.

Please can I have a God
whose voice is the sound of a girl, long silent from abuse,
now speaking her first word,
who is not sweetness or light, but the fierce utterance of
“no” in all the places where love has been extinguished.

Please can I have a God
the color of doubt, the shape of uncertainty,
who sees that within me dwells a multitude,
grief and joy, envy and generosity, rage and raucousness,
and anoints every last part.

Please can I have a God
who rolls her eyes with me at platitudes and pronouncements
and walks by my side in the early morning
across the wet field, together bare-footed and broken-hearted,
who is both mud and dew.

Please can I have a God
who is the vast indifference of forest and night sky,
who is both eclipse and radiance, silence and scream,
who is everything slow and dark and moist,
who is not measured, controlled, but ecstatic and dancing.

Please can I have a God
who is not the flame, but the flickering,
not bread, but the chewing and swallowing,
not Lover and Beloved, but the making love,
not the dog, but the joyful exuberance when I come home.

— Christine Valters Paintner

Dearest Monks, Artists, and Pilgrims,

This poem landed in my heart a few days ago while sitting in a darkened candlelit Cathedral at night, music playing, and the invitation to quiet prayer. I had been having a week of feeling the extremes of my humanity, both profound tenderness and vulnerability, as well as deep joy and excitement, the real stuff of our holy disorder.

A couple of weeks prior I had attended a lecture by Irish theologian Mary Condren. Instead of using the term "God," which is a noun and gives a fixed sense, she prefers the term "divinity" as offering an invitation to the movement of the holy as animating force through the world. I have been pondering her words since then, noticing even more so how images and names can fix something in our mind which should be vast, fluid, and unknowable.

When I am struggling with my humanness, I feel some disdain toward statements encouraging me to have faith or hope. Not that I reject those stances in life, but the advice always feels like it is moving me away from the opportunity to really experience the grief that is visiting me.What if instead of my needing to move toward faith, I invited God toward my pain and sorrow? As a monk in the world, who claims inner hospitality as a foundational practice, my real work comes with experiencing the fullness of my life, all of it. Not just to celebrate the beauty and joy, of which I have an embarrassment of riches and feel profound gratitude for every single day, but to welcome in the feelings of tenderness and insecurity, whatever is bringing them into my life.They are indeed wise teachers.

The poem arose in the space of that quiet hour in the sanctuary. Inspired by a poetry writing exercise I was offered in a lovely weekly workshop I am taking here in Galway (the assignment was to write a poem inspired by this poem by Selima Hill) and I offer it to you if seeing God and divinity in new ways feels life-giving to you. If you are longing for a God with more fierceness, more mystery, more capacity to hold the vast paradoxes of life and the world we live in. This is, of course, not the last word, but only a beginning.

What are the fossilized images in your own life that need breaking open?

Do check out our Invitation to Poetry for this month on the theme of soul friend and our latest Monk in the World guest post by fellow monk Valerie Hess.

I am excited to announce that prints of the dancing monk icons are now available!  We have also posted the information about our Vienna monk in the world pilgrimage May 23-31,2015.

With great and growing love,

Christine

Invitation to Poetry: Soul Friend

anam cara - lynn

Welcome to Poetry Party #75! (Does that make it our diamond jubilee?)

button-poetryI select an image (*photo above by Lynn Weekes
Karegeannes
) 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 wisdom from St. Brigid about having a soul friend and followed up with our Photo Party on the same theme. (You are most welcome to still participate).  We continue this theme in our Poetry Party this month.

Brigid's words have sparked some great conversation at our Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group. We can not go this journey alone, but having a soul friend does not necessarily mean having a spiritual director, in terms of someone formally trained for this ministry. Having a soul friend means someone in your life with whom you can share the deep desires and struggles of your heart. The ego can be very deceiving and having another person helps us to always return to the voice of the soul. Sometimes that presence is offered through nature or a creature companion. The photo above, shared by fellow monk in the world Lynn Weekes Karegeannes at this month's Photo Party, shimmers with the sacredness of connection and loving presence between people who share a kinship of the soul.

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 1200 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.

Dancing Monk Icons now available as prints!

St HildegardIf you have loved the dancing monk icon series, you can now order prints directly from artist Marcy Hall of Rabbit Room Arts. The prints are made by a local printer in the town of Erie on archival quality mat board, so your purchase supports the artist, a local printer, and half of the profits go to support the Earth Monastery Project.

Will you choose Mary Mother of God, St. Benedict, St. Hildegard, St. Brigid, or maybe one of each? (Discounts when you buy 2 or all 4!)

Prints are 6 inches wide x 10 inches high and are mounted on an 11 x 14 board.

They are such wonderful reminders of the 8th principle of the Monk Manifesto: to be a dancing monk, cultivating creative joy and letting my body and "heart overflow with the inexpressible delights of love." (from the Rule of Benedict)

You must order by March 17th and all orders will be printed together and shipped out at that time.

Go to this link for more details and to order directly from Marcy>>

(Dancing St. Hildegard pictured here)

Monk in the World guest post: Valerie Hess

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community.  Read on for Valerie's wisdom about signposts and ancient practices:

This is what the Lord says:

“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.

Jeremiah 6:16

I am a signpost. I am called to stand at the crossroads and offer direction and guidance to people. I share what I know of the ancient path to walk on, a good path, a path that leads to rest in their souls that Jeremiah records.

This is not a flashy or “sexy” way to live in the world. While signposts can be in key places of need, they are often rather dull and uninteresting things themselves. People who look at them are also looking past them, seeking to find the road, the directional information they are seeking. The signpost itself is merely functional, pointing to another reality; it is not the reality itself. While they can be iconic, most signposts are not great art, though they often are used to illustrate articles on guidance in life and the like. They can be metaphors for larger realities in the world but for the most part, signposts are there to focus our attention on something else and not on the signpost itself.

I am a signpost. My passion and gifting is teaching the spiritual disciplines to people who have known about God, often for decades, but have had difficulty in knowing God and, therefore, in knowing their true selves. The spiritual disciplines are “hand-holds” on the ladder of life. They can help carry us beyond ourselves, helping us keep our footing in whatever present reality we find ourselves in. They help us navigate rough waters as stars helped ancient mariners find their true course.

Yet, these spiritual disciplines, or holy habits as they are sometimes called, are often hidden or unknown altogether to people of faith. For lots of reasons, mostly due to fear of “works righteousness,” the spiritual disciplines have been neglected since the 1800s  in Protestant circles. Thanks to people like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, they are being rediscovered. Like a hidden Egyptian tomb, soul archeologists are discovering their treasures and sharing them with others. They are some of the great wonders of the spiritual world: prayer, meditation, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission (a wonderful word that has been horribly misunderstood in modern times), service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration (to quote Richard Foster’s list in his ground-breaking book, “Celebration of Disciplines.”)

I live as a monk in the world as a signpost to these great treasures. I have not unearthed these treasures myself but, like a museum docent, I show them to people, inviting them to embrace them for themselves. I do this through writing, speaking and through teaching graduate students.

Yet, as a signpost, I myself am also in need of being reminded about these practices. I often say, in a semi-joking fashion, that I teach the spiritual disciplines because I, more than anyone in the room, need to be reminded of their power and goodness. I continue to write and speak about them because I am also reminding myself that they are the paving stones on the ancient path and good way that God, through Jeremiah, invites us to.

When I use this Bible verse from Jeremiah to introduce my class to the disciplines, I leave out the last line: “But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” Signposts can be ignored. Stop signs are run, road closure signs are missed, directional signs are ignored. Like you, I see this happen frequently and am guilty of these transgressions myself at times. But just because a signpost is ignored, the value of its message is not negated. The good road is there, whether I choose to walk on it or not.

We need new roads and we need ancient paths. “And Jesus said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.’ (Matt 13:52). Each passageway needs signposts appropriate to its type. Interstate highway signs need to be big, flashy, and multiplied over a number of miles before the exit. Hiking trail signs can be smaller, more rustic and limited in number.

As a monk in the world, I am called to be a signpost to the ancient path that leads towards God. I am small and non-descript but no less valuable because of it. Stand! Look! Ask! Walk! There will be signs along the way.


Valerie Hess low resValerie Hess, www.valeriehess.com, is a musician, instructor in Spring Arbor University’s Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership (MSFL) program, and an author with three books in print.

She is also the Coordinator of Music Ministries for Trinity Lutheran Church in Boulder, Colorado, where she lives with her husband.

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

Love and Hospitality (a love note from your online Abbess)

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2 - Hospitality

Dearest Monks, Artists, and Pilgrims,

A few days ago I received an email from a woman who is writing her dissertation and asked me to respond to the question: "If you had to choose one spiritual practice that is a non-negotiable for spiritual growth in the 21st century, what would it be and why?" My answer was supposed to be short and succinct.

Here was my reply: "I would choose hospitality, both inner and outer, because I believe the welcoming in all of the exiled pieces of ourselves to be essential for the healing of the world." Of course, it is one of the principles of the Monk Manifesto, and feels like a necessary gateway to silence or hesychia, which the ancient desert monks described as a deep inner stillness.

As I was thinking about writing this love note, I realized Friday is Valentine's Day, which for many of us is a holiday which only serves to make us feel inadequate, as all highly commercialized things do. And yet the message of love is worth repeating if we can look beneath the chocolate hearts and flowers and the expectation that we all be in a significant relationship or be lacking.

When I read the question posed above, I did not hesitate in my response, because I find that this is the heart of my work – creating a safe space where monks can begin welcoming back in the stranger within and in the process discover the hidden wholeness of which Thomas Merton wrote. Over the years, I have come to realize, that more than anything else I do, this work of healing is most essential. The Abbey, too, strives to be a safe place where a diversity of people with a wide range of beliefs and convictions can gather. I love that people show up each with their own longings.

Last week I shared that I was feeling under the weather. I pulled back from as much activity as I could and allowed myself some space to cocoon. I trusted my body's longings and in the process I am feeling better physically, but also some important spiritual shifts are happening that needed the space of quiet to unfold. This trust is an act of great love toward myself. Rather than pushing through, I made the choice to welcome and yield.

The same happens when we consider the parts of ourselves that feel less desirable, the parts we resist. Maybe there is a deep loneliness as this holiday of roses and Hallmark approaches. What would it be like to welcome in that lonely part of yourself and to love him, to trust that she has a place in you? Maybe there is self-judgment and criticism that you try to push away. What would it be like to make space to sit with these difficult parts with compassion and listen to what they really want to tell you? This would be a generous act of loving.

This radical hospitality is a lifelong journey. We are always discovering new aspects of our inner world which we reject or resist and need love and care. And in the process of welcoming them in, we perhaps begin to discover that others don't annoy us quite so much. As we grow more intimate with our own places of exile and woundedness, we discover a deep well of compassion for the strangeness of others. As we come to know our own compulsions and places of grasping, we can offer more love to those in our lives struggling with addictions and other places where freedom has been lost.

For the last few months I have signed this love note "With great and growing love" but never explained the choice I made. I started after finding some old letters written by my mother and father to one another in the early days of their marriage. I had forgotten that one of their terms of endearment for one another was "GGL" which stood for "great and growing love." These missives all began and ended with those three letters.

Even though my parents' wounds eventually led them to separation and my father to rejecting much of the love offered to him toward the end of his life, I still treasure this image. I cherish knowing that there was this sense of love abiding between them, growing slowly. Rather than feeling despair or cynicism, I actually feel a great tenderness to know of all the places love plants her seeds.

I love each of you, my dear monks, I don't think the intensity of this work is sustainable without that kind of love. I love your seeking hearts. I love your desire to find a more compassionate way to be in this life and on this earth.

As I continue to offer love to myself through acts of trust in my body's wisdom and welcoming in the less flattering parts of myself, the love grows.

My beloved John will often say "I love you more," and I respond by asking "More than what?" And his reply is "more than yesterday." We have been blessed with 20 years of growing love.

My invitation to you, as Valentine's Day approaches, is to consider whether your love for your own beautiful self grows each day, knowing that there will be days of such self-disdain it might not be possible, and then you welcome in that small and wounded place and discover a hidden fountain of love beneath. Once we begin welcoming in the places we resist, we find that the deep peace of silence can be ours.

This week, let your prayer be "welcome" to every stranger arriving at the inner door and an act of trust in the wholeness that you are.

And know of my love for you, which is always growing.

Do check out our Invitation to Photography for this month on the theme of soul friend and our latest Monk in the World guest post by fellow monk Patricia Turner.

Please consider joining the Abbey for our soulful journey through Lent, guided by the heart of the pilgrim. I have also added a brand new self-study course on Celtic spirituality (a revised version of our program from Advent, now available for any time of year).

With great and growing love,

Christine

Photo: Kristin Noelle's art for the second principle of the Monk Manifesto on hospitality (you can see a video with all 8 of her delightful images here)

Invitation to Photography: Soul Friend

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 with wisdom from St. Brigid.  As I prayed with this passage, I was moved by how essential Brigid considers the role of companions on the journey. She urges us to make finding those with whom we can share a deep kinship of the heart's longings.

With our overall theme of the year at the Abbey as discernment, I love the idea of listening for how we might build a soulful community to support us in living as a monk in the world (which also reflects the third principle of the Monk Manifesto).

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 image of soul friend 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 "Soul Friend" 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.