I am so delighted to be starting a weekly series of guest posts from each of the Wisdom Council members, with their reflections on what being a monk in the world and an artist in everyday life means for them, in the context of their own work and ministries.
It is with great pleasure that I host Dana Reynolds of Sacred Life Arts for our first installment. I have worked with Dana as both a participant in Abbey retreats, as well as a collaborator and co-creator of Abbey programs (she helped to create the Advent 2011 retreat and the wonderful Women on the Threshold program. Dana's work shares so much heart and soul with my own, and so I share her wise reflections here with you:
Twenty years ago I was blessed to discover a fragment of ancient wisdom, while reading about my girlhood heroine, Jeanne d’Arc. My accidental encounter with her testimony recorded during the Middle Ages inspired my understanding of the relationship between human creativity and divine inspiration. Her simple statement eventually contributed to the impetus and formation of Sacred Life-Arts, an online sanctuary, classroom, and resource center devoted to bringing creative inspiration and spiritual illumination to women.
Here is the text depicting a potent and portent momentary interaction between young Jeanne d’Arc and her inquisitor during her trial for heresy.
One of Jeanne’s many inquisitors accuses…“You say God speaks to you, but it’s only your imagination.”
Without reservation she responds…. “How else would God speak to me, if not through my imagination?”
Jeanne’s clear and uncomplicated statement succinctly defined the deepest possible meaning of the human imagination in relationship to divine inspiration. Her statement continues to hold relevance centuries later.
The imagination is sacred territory. The cultivation and exploration of the sacred imagination’s landscape is at the center of my work as a monk in the world, a spiritual director, and contemplative sacred life-artisan.
I believe the potential to engage and inhabit the wild and mysterious terrain of the sacred imagination, as a co-creator with God is not a phantasmal, numinous occurrence reserved only for saints and mystics of long ago. Rather, it’s a very real gift knitted into each of us before birth, as a faculty of inner vision, and conduit to the divine. The sacred imagination, as I imagine it, is the place where our inner creative gifts merge with intuitive inspiration from the Source.
When creative longing takes hold and we are open to receiving inspiration, our sacred imaginations fuse with the Source of unlimited potential for creative expression. We are inspirited with the fire of possibility and provided with a new lens through which our initial visions becomes clear and within tangible reach. If intuition and inspiration are the voice of the soul, the sacred imagination and creative expression are the hands of the soul.
For me, the experience of living life as a monk in the world offers many opportunities to practice the sacred life-arts. By my definition, a sacred life-artisan is a contemplative spiritual practitioner, who brings her sacred imagination and conscious awareness to everyday, ordinary moments. She is a purveyor of beauty and a seeker of opportunities for authentic, personal and collective transformation through creative expression and sacred intention. It is the work of the sacred life-artisan to be in conscious and continual relationship with the Source (God’s creative and generative presence within) through prayer and spiritual practice.
In co-creation with the Source, the sacred life-artisan discovers pathways to alter seeming routine tasks, and challenging situations into opportunities of learning, blessing, and beauty.
As a monk in the world, and a contemplative by nature, I draw inspiration for my daily life from my passion for medieval monasticism and the themes of prayer, prophecy, and pilgrimage. I believe there is great value in looking to the wisdom of the past to inform life in the present. I carry the bone deep belief that ancient feminine wisdom is hidden away in various places in the world, awaiting uncovering, and the reclaiming by the women of today.
How might the unearthing of this long forgotten knowledge, the age-old stories of women and their communities, inspire and transform our spiritual and creative understanding?
The particular wisdom I’m referring to isn’t the educated thought of well-known scholars.
Rather, these were women who lived by their wits and their prayers while they navigated the challenges and dangers of their patriarchal world.
My fascination and quest to discover and reclaim ancient feminine wisdom inspired the story that became my first novel, Ink and Honey, a depiction of a radically independent spiritual sisterhood of women, the sisters of Belle Coeur. They were midwives, visionaries, herbalists, prophets, and sacred life-artisans. They were sacred life-artisans who forged beauty in everyday moments, and through selfless service, in the midst of chaos and challenge.
While writing Ink and Honey I sensed a thinning of the veil, and an invitation from the spirits of our ancestors. Perhaps they are calling us to begin an inner and outer pilgrimage to explore, gather, and reclaim the inspiration and beauty of ancient forms of expression, crafts, prayers, rituals, and wisdom to inform and reinvigorate our lives today.
The call from women for spiritual and creative community is growing louder. In autumn, 2013, I will gather with twelve women in Colorado to co-create the formation of the first Belle Cœur sisterhood, a contemporary spiritual/creative order, inspired by the example of the way of Belle Cœur, as depicted in Ink and Honey. A companion guidebook for Ink and Honey, The Way of Belle Cœur: Soul, Sacrament, Sisterhood, and Service, will be released later this year.
I invite you to contemplate your creative spirit, as a sacred life-artisan. The landscape of your sacred imagination awaits your exploration with the invitation to become a co-creator with the divine. If you doubt such things are possible for you, I remind you to reflect on the words spoken with faith and conviction by young Jeanne d’Arc. Perhaps, you too one day will embody her truth and say…“How else would God speak to me, if not through my imagination?”