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My final question, 'How will I know when I have reached the destination?' brings me full circle, and I face the Mystery again. Perhaps the truth is that we never arrive, not because the journey is too long and too difficult but because we have been there all along. I am coming to believe that there is no final destination except to continue to be on the journey and to know that every place along the way is a holy place because God is present. I believe that God is calling us to stand on our own ground and know that it is holy and let our roots grow deep. And yet at the same time, the journey goes on. It is a paradox, I know, but perhaps we are traveling most faithfully when we know ourselves to be most at home.
—Judith E. Smith, from "This Ground is Holy Ground" in Weavings Journal
Dearest monks and artists,
A dear friend and fellow monk in the world sent me the words above recently. They express so well the truth I am being called to embrace on this time of pilgrimage. Of course, my Benedictine commitment to conversion teaches me that there is no "destination," only a continual unfolding, ripening, and ongoing revelation. My practice is to stay awake to this, receive each moment as gift and invitation.
The six months I spent living in Vienna were a tremendous grace, full of joy and delight, as well as roadblocks and frustrations. I try my best to be present to it all, to embrace the full spectrum of what is happening in any given moment. Without this, I am just on a vacation rather than a pilgrimage. I know if life allows me, I will return to Vienna again and again.
We came to Ireland full of possibility, with even a rainbow to greet us on our arrival. We have already had some roadblocks and frustrations here, needing to move homes again to Galway because I did not have the resources and connection to do my work where we were. I had to cancel several things and make hard choices because our financial livelihood depended on it. It has been an uneasy time and yet our new home is wonderful with wide views of the sea to keep my heart and imagination expansive.
I sometimes describe the artist as one who creates out of the materials given, not necessarily the materials they wish they had. To be an artist of everyday life means to stay fluid and flexible, responding to the invitation in each moment. I cringe a little when I hear people say things were "meant to be" or "happened for a reason." I don't believe that life is planned out ahead of time, but that God is immersed in a creative outpouring moment by moment and we are called to dance with whatever emerges. Sometimes it is not as we would want it, often this is because of the choices or limitations of others, or our own, not some God-given struggle to strengthen us. And yet, the divine presence is always there in the midst, helping us to create beauty right there.
In this last month I have also been to the U.S., my first time back since moving overseas, spending time first with nearly 300 monks and artists at a conference I was leading in Denver, and then 11 beautiful souls on the shores of the Hood Canal in the Pacific Northwest. It has been a time full of grace and joy and feeling very at home in my work and ministry, feeling at home being with some wonderful new friends. It was a gift to be back in my beloved Northwest, a place that will always feel like home to me. And always on returning from such an outpouring of heart and energy, it is time for me to move inward for a while.
I am feeling a bit buffeted these days, unsettled, stretched thin at times, and longing for homecoming, but knowing it is not time yet for that. Pilgrimage is about letting myself be a stranger for a while and breathing into the discomfort of it. I need to allow days and weeks to pass in this new place, to build connections, and feel the energy of the sea moving in to greet me again and again. And at the same time, I do have many moments of homecoming, glimpses of what Judith writes about above, to see this place as holy. Moments of joy and a sense of rightness that I have said a wholehearted "yes" to the invitation to not take my life for granted and to not let opportunities for exploration and adventure pass me by. This is the path of the monk in the world.
In this quiet space before Lent begins, I am being extraordinarily gentle and generous with my tender self. I am inhabiting a space of deep rest and recovery, of embracing winter's stillness, of sending down roots into the earth for nourishment. My word for the year is "breakthrough" and right now it feels like a series of quiet breakthrough moments as I continue to soften into this space I find myself. I have had so much inspiration these last few weeks, so many amazing things are coming to birth, I need to find some fallow ground in which to plant the seeds and witness what grows forth. And I will share more as the time becomes right.
What is the invitation of this season for your own heart? Can you be gentle in the midst of transitions and disappointments? How is your word for the year working through you?
Lent begins in two and a half weeks and there are two offerings through the Abbey. First is our Lenten retreat – Creative Flourishing in the Desert with Hildegard of Bingen (February 13-March 30, 2013). I will be offering relections on her wisdom for our lives and inviting you into contemplative and creative practices inspired by her life and work. The other option is for Soul Care Practitioners – A Midwinter God: Making a Conscious Underworld Journey (February 18-March 30, 2013) – only a couple of spaces left in this one as it is limited enrollment.
I also have a list of live retreat opportunities coming up in 2013. Kayce and I would love to have you join us for Springtime in Vienna, if your heart is calling you to the adventure of traveling to a magical and beautiful city for writing and photographic inspiration (no art experience necessary!) Registrations have already begun for our two fall Northwest programs and I will be listening to some future possibilities for retreats in Ireland (including the private retreat option so many of you have expressed interest in).
Make sure to stop by this month's Poetry Party– a little bit later than I had anticipated – with a chance to win a space in the Lenten Hildegard retreat.
May you find yourself at home wherever you are,
With great and growing love. . .
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE