Monk in the World guest post: Kent Ira Groff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Painting Pain

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

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

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

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

To read other posts in this series click here>>

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

NEW 8th principle of the Monk Manifesto:

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

8 - DancingMonk

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

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

Invitation to Photography: Softening and Yielding

Welcome to this month's Abbey Photo Party!

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

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

But doubts and loves / Dig up the world.

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

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

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

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

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

How to participate:

You can post your photo either in the comment section below* (there is now an option to upload a file with your comment) or you can join our Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group and post there. Feel free to share a few words about the process of receiving this image and how it speaks of the "Softening and Yielding" for you.

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

You can see the fall calendar of invitations here>>

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

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NEW 8th principle of the Monk Manifesto:

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

Seattle (web)02Dearest monks and artists,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With great and growing love,


*Photo: Love discovered on a Seattle sidewalk

Monk in the World guest post: Lacy Clark Ellman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To read other posts in this series click here>>

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

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

How Community Lectio Divina works:

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

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

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

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

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

The Place Where We Are Right

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

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

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

Yehuda Amichai (Translated from the original Hebrew)

After you have prayed with the text (and feel free to pray with it more than once – St. Ignatius wrote about the deep value of repetition in prayer, especially when something feels particularly rich) spend some time journaling what insights arise for you.

How is this text calling to your dancing monk heart in this moment of your life?

What does this text have to offer to your discernment journey of listening moment by moment to the invitation from the Holy?

What wisdom emerged that may be just for you, but may also be for the wider community?

Sharing Your Responses

Please share the fruits of your lectio divina practice in the comments below or at our Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group which you can join here.

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

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

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

Monk Badges: Share your commitment!

After many requests, I had my delightful web person create some badges for you to post on your blogs and Facebook pages, as a reminder of your commitment as a monk in the world and dancing monk, and a way to share that commitment with others. Three different options are below along with the code you can use to post the image (you can also right-click to save the image to your hard drive and then post it that way).

The first badge links to the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks page and the second and third link to the Monk Manifesto page.

To share on Facebook you can simply share the link to this page, or you can save one of the images below and load into your photo album. To share on your blog, you can enter the code below into your sidebar.


<a title="button-dancing by Abbey of the Arts, on Flickr" href=""><img alt="button-dancing" src="" width="150" height="150" /></a>


<a href="" title="button-monk by Abbey of the Arts, on Flickr"><img src="" width="150" height="150" alt="button-monk"></a>


<a title="button-manifesto by Abbey of the Arts, on Flickr" href=""><img alt="button-manifesto" src="" width="150" height="150" /></a>

Monk in the World guest post: Claire Bangasser

Our next post in the Monk in the World series is from Claire Bangasser, whom I have known for several years now in the virtual world of writing on faith and spirituality. She makes regular pilgrimages on the Compostelle and the subtitle of her blog is "I re-imagine a Church engaged in dialogue with people at the margins," a wonderful mission indeed.  She writes about justice and peace, women's spirituality, and here shares about returning to her roots to encounter Godde*:

A Spiritual Being Having a Human Experience

“Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: In a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.”  —John Paul II, Letter to Artists

Claire BangasserWe are born to create and give life, literally and figuratively. As Godde’s* creatures, we are made in Her image and thus are creators as well.  We are also her temple (1 Co 3:16) and her work of art (Eph 2:10). Monks in the world and artists crafting our own life.

I am as much an artist as I think I am: Just like in the story of the woman coming across someone who was laying bricks, another who was raising a wall, and the third building a cathedral. Which one of the three am I? What am I creating with my life?

“We are spiritual beings having a human experience,” wrote Teilhard de Chardin. Like the god Indra who, to have fun, became a pig and then promptly forgot who he truly was until his spell was broken, we forget that we are not only “made from cosmic dust birthed in the interior of ancient stars that long predated our planet and solar system” (Sr Ilia Delio, The Emergent Christ); we also bear a divine seal imprinted on our heart and soul.

I have lived most of my life, however, without seeing myself as a temple and a work of art. For a long time, I did not know what to make out of my life. I was a spiritual seeker, looking for the Divine in Hinduism, Zen Buddhism. My own Catholicism seemed unable to answer my questions.

If I look back over my life, I see a tapestry made up of spiritual and human threads, with spiritual moments wowing the human side of me. Every time I revisit my life, I find new moments when the divine came to surprise me. Still, it takes me a long time to recognize that this continuous thread of divine light throughout my life is what sustains it.

I remember first encountering the divine when I was four or five. My parents wanted me to be taught catechism as soon as possible. Once a week, I visited a tall priest in a long black cassock who introduced me to matters of Godde. In the evenings, my father took me on his lap and read me Bible stories. The day of my first Communion I walked, so small and all in white, to the altar railing to receive my very first Eucharist. A sea of legs opened in front of me and I reached an altar glowing in a cloud of golden light which enchants me to this day.

Some years later, on an Easter morning, coming out of the church with my grandfather, I exclaimed to him that my heart felt so light and happy, it was as if I were floating above the ground. These things happen, my grandfather told me with a smile.

It seemed then that my spiritual life had started on the right foot and that I was heading somewhere. But then came a long detour, a sort of getting lost in the woods of life. A confession in an antique cathedral at twenty filled a priest with wonder — a conversion, he kept exclaiming. Still, I had truly lost my way.

Years passed. I met a wonderful man, we got married, we had two little girls. Unaware of whom I truly was, my humanity blinded the spiritual me. One evening though, at thirty, I experienced the Divine in such a powerful manner that it launched me on a quest to recover that brief encounter. Looking into my own Catholic tradition for an explanation never crossed my mind. It was linked to my childhood and early teens and did not feel up to the task. So, Hinduism, Tibetan and Zen Buddhism became lands of exploration.

In my early 40s I returned to my religious origins thanks to a young Brahmin woman who passed on to me the fire for Jesus Christ that filled her heart. This and encountering Jesus in the slums of Madras showed me — at last — where my path was. Those six weeks spent studying women’s leadership in the slums were a turning point for me. How odd that it is India itself, where I had followed a Vedic master and attended teachings by the Dalai Lama, which pointed me back to my Catholic roots.

After more than twenty years of spiritual wandering, I came upon a spiritual path which I have been following ever since. Cursillo, Joan Chittister’s The Rule of Benedict, theological studies, Ignatian Spirituality, walking the Camino, and Christine Valters Paintner’s many courses and books, all came to me and added fuel to this strange spiritual hodgepodge which I am today.

Now I have reached the Crone age, with aches and pains kneaded into my daily life, and somehow my spirit soaring above them (most of the time). I connect to the Divine through loving my family, talking with friends, writing my blog, praying, cooking, spending more and more time in silence, walking, enjoying Nature’s beauty: All this turns into a musical leitmotiv my life keeps humming.

Godde’s fire burns in my heart, a fire which may some day reveal to the spiritual me the meaning of this human experience. After all, I may just be a heartbeat in the vastness of the Cosmos, a wisp of a thought, a sigh of wonder, a longing for union, a fleeting smile on Godde’s face, a dream conjuring up a sanctuary deep within the ground of my being, a sanctuary longing to greet me, to welcome me at last.

*Note: Gen 1:27 tells us that God created humanity in his own image, … male and female he created them… Male and female, in his image… Why is so much of Godde always in the male image then, when female is there as well?

Writing Godde this way may look childish, silly, and unnecessary. I need Godde as a way of surviving in the woman-unfriendly environment that is still the Roman Catholic Church at this point. As a cry for help toward the Infinitely Good, I say and write ‘Godde’ to assert the dignity of being a creature of Godde made in Her image with Her heart and Her dreams for humanity.

Claire Bangasser is a feminist, monk, artist, and pilgrim. You can find out more about her at her website, A Catholic Woman's Place and her blog A Seat At The Table.

To read other posts in this series click here>>

An opportunity to pause and savor

At the Abbey this fall we have weekly invitations to lectio divina, photography, poetry, and dance on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Sundays respectively.  With a 5th Sunday this month, I am inviting you to allow this week to be a chance to revisit some of the previous invitations and savor what has been shared there, as well as your own unfolding response to the "Call to Newness" we have been exploring.

Consider stopping by these posts and see what newness is stirred:

Our approach to the arts here is rooted in the expressive arts, which engages the arts on behalf of healing and transformation.  Two hallmarks of the expressive arts are its focus on process, rather than product, paying attention to the journey of discovery which arts can bring us on. The other is a focus on the gift of multi-modal exploration, meaning that when we move from one art form to another our experience deepens in new ways.  This is similar to the experience of ritual, where contemplation, art, poetry, music, and dance are brought together to create a sacred space and possibility for transformative encounter with the divine.

Remember that we have a Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group which is a wonderful place to join the conversation, or share your comments below.

Next week we will have a new community lectio divina practice!

Invite Wonder (a love note from your online Abbess)

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Rhine grapes

Invite Wonder

What if you bowed
before every dandelion you met
and wrote love letters to
squirrels and pigeons
who crossed your path?

What if scrubbing the dishes became
an act of single reverence for the gift
of being washed clean, and what if the
rhythmic percussion of chopping carrots
became the drumbeat of your dance?

What if you stepped into the shower
each morning only to be baptized anew
and sent forth to serve the grocery bagger,
the bank teller, and the bus driver
through simple kindness?

And what if the things that make
your heart dizzy with delight were
no longer stuffed into the basement
of your being and allowed out to play
in the lush and green fields?

There are two ways to live in this world:

As if everything were enchanted
or nothing at all.

There is no in between, although you
keep trying to live this divided life knowing
deep down something is awry.
You have lived long enough
with this tearing apart.

Come out into the wide world
and discover there companions and guides
at every turn, and even those who summon
curses from your heart have
a divine spark within them bright enough

to invite wonder.

—Christine Valters Paintner

Dearest monks and artists,

I am back in Galway for a few days following our Hildegard of Bingen pilgrimage
in Germany. It is always hard to return from an experience of great depth and
meaning and then try to express in words its essence.

I am grateful for so many things: to dwell in Hildegard's landscape again and
feel the power of viriditas that shaped her imagination, to gather with a group
of delightful, open-hearted, and joy-filled pilgrims and be with a community of
dancing monks, to partner with my dear friend Betsey again as well as our
wonderful leadership team in supporting the pilgrims' journeys, to wander in
the woods for hours and remember this as the place where I feel most alive, to
be well-nourished and cared for at the hotel where we stayed, and my own
ongoing journey of being breaking open again and again.

At our closing ritual we gave each pilgrim two gifts: a feather and a pine cone.

Hildegard described herself as being a "feather on the breath of God"
and pilgrimage invites us to notice what we are holding too tightly to, so we
might release ourselves into the current of life. The feather was a reminder of
the call to surrender whatever it is we grasp onto.

And Hildegard cherished the greening beauty of the world as a living mirror of
the capacity for our souls.  The pine cone is a symbol of the new seeds
planted in every journey. We go on pilgrimage to be changed, to see the world
with eyes of wonder. We don't know the fullness of the journey's impact until
long after.

Take a moment right now to imagine holding a feather in one hand and a pine
cone in the other.  What is your own call to release and greening?
Our theme this month at the Abbey has been "Call to Newness" – what
seeds are being planted for you to yield the lushness of blossom and
fruit?  What stands in the way of your being able to receive the world as

There is more to say, but that will come with time. I have had many
inspirations including commissioning a series of dancing monk icons from an
artist friend (patron saints of the Abbey like Hildegard, Benedict, Brigid,
Thomas Merton, and more) and to add an 8th principle to the Monk Manifesto to
express the call to dance through Benedict's invitation for monks to cultivate
good zeal, contentment, and a heart overflowing with love. I will also add an
8th lesson to the free Monk in the World e-course you receive with
subscribing.  Look for that later this autumn. More to come on those . . .

I am heading off again in a few days back to my beloved Northwest to teach
the Awakening the Creative Spirit intensive for soul care practitioners wanting to integrate the arts into their ministry (next offering April 29-May 4, 2014 in Oklahoma) and then the Sacred Rhythms Writing Retreat bringing dance, yoga, writing, and monastic rhythms together (next offering September 2014 in Cape May, NJ).

This week we have another new feature at the Abbey: our new Dance Party (continuing
our theme of "Call to Newness") and our newest guest post on being a monk in the world from Claudia Mair.

May the turning of the world toward autumn (northern hemisphere) and spring (southern hemisphere) call you back to your own soul's great turning toward life.

With great and growing love,


*Photo: ripe grapes hanging from the vine by the Abbey of St Hildegard