Abbey of the Arts is a global community and virtual monastery. It is co-created by those who long to live into the monk and artist path more fully, knowing the depth and meaning to be found in them.
For those of you who want to affiliate with this community, I invite you to consider joining the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks!
A poem for Abbey of the Arts by Australian spoken word artist Joel McKerrow
We dance. We dance wild.
Not a two step, structured repetition. We dance large.
We dance flailing arms.
We dance the erratic and the wriggle,
the blunder, stumble and fall with no need to get back up again.
For our fumbles are our dance
and our dance is our rebellion and our declaration and our surrender.
Our falling to the floor is a knowing that it is only in the places
of dust and grime and footprint, only in the failed step and the rusty body, only in the falling
that we can ever truly meet the holy and the sacred.
We meet God on the floor.
So we choose to not rise too quickly,
to not keep ourselves together,
to not think we have this nailed,
this life, this God, this mystery, this question.
Our dancing is our stumbling and our stumbling is our dancing
and how disorderly we may seem,
and how undignified and messy,
we dive headfirst into not having the answers,
giving ourselves to a more spacious rhythm.
The song that is heard only in the silence,
only in the listening ear,
only in the unexplored landscape.
The whisper at the edges.
We find ourselves
when we lose ourselves.
The wilderness and the wild.
The Christ who gathers.
The Christ who descends.
The giving up of control.
The smallness of humility.
The largeness of the mystery.
The immensity of seeking the sacred in everything.
Never running from life
but plunging ourselves more wholly into her.
We dance and we feel our lumbered bodies begin to move.
We dance and we feel the heavy begin to take flight.
We dance to find liberation.
We dance to bring redemption,
the untwisting of the beautiful,
We dance to the new rhythm, the ancient rhythm, the holy rhythm,
the rhythm that holds it all together.
We dance to bring space.
We dance to hold hands.
We dance and we dance and we dance and we dance
until we are dizzy and falling.
We dance. We dance wild.
We are the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks.
There are many thresholds to the process of becoming a dancing monk. It is a lifelong journey, but here are some ways to begin. This isn’t meant to be a linear path of things to check off a list but invitations which weave together to create a life of depth and service:
Abba Antony said to Abba Joseph, “How would you explain this saying?” and he replied, “I do not know.” Then Abba Anthony said, “Indeed, Abba Joseph has found the way, for he has said: “I do not know.” —Antony the Great
This world, this reality, revealed by God speaking to us, is not the kind of world to which we are accustomed. It is not a neat and tidy world in which we are in control- there is mystery everywhere that takes considerable getting used to, and until we do, it scares us. —Eugene Peterson
The heart of the contemplative life is never about escaping the world, but plunging ourselves fully into the heart of messiness and mystery.
As we deepen on the contemplative journey, our aim is to release our attempts at controlling our lives and surrendering into a far greater Mystery than our egos can contain. There are no step-by-step plans, only daily practice and immersion in the messiness of life as it comes. We live into the questions, as the poet Rilke so wisely wrote, rather than trying to find the answers. We practice being uncomfortable. We move more deeply into unknowing.
We follow the trail of the desert mothers and fathers, who traveled out to the heart of wild places to discover their own edges, to be stripped of false idols, to release certainty and control, and to encounter the God who is far beyond their limited imagination. We are also called to step out into this wilderness by showing up to life fully and embracing the disorder to be found there as precisely the place where the holy dwells and shimmers.
When we reach for control and conformity, we effectively squelch the Spirit at work in the world. We recognize the health and vitality to be found in diversity, and the free exchange of ideas as keeping us awake to what we most deeply believe. Creativity arises in response to what life offers us. To be an artist means to create out of the materials given.
As the Buddhist teacher Reginald Ray writes in his book Touching Enlightenment, our bodies are the last unexplored wilderness. We live so far removed from the sensual and incarnational realities of embodied life which offer us a deep source of wisdom and place of encounter with God.
Like the early desert monks, we are called to stay in the midst of wilderness for the sake of deepening into the divine mystery. Not just to bide our time, waiting for a way out of the messiness, but to dance right in the midst of it, to connect to the rhythm of life and trust that love is the fundamental force sustaining us.
Dancing may mean literally moving your body in response to the music of life, but it is also a metaphor for living from a full-bodied, contemplative awareness of the gift our physicality offers to us. It means living as if the incarnation really were true and matters deeply. The split between head and body is at the root of so many divisions in our world. We are in exile and being called home. When we attend to the body’s wisdom with reverence, it offers us holy directions for our lives.
We are a radically inclusive tribe, living out the ancient paths of monk and artist as witness to an alternative way of being in the world. All are welcome. Bring your doubts, your questions, your laments, your celebrations. It all belongs.
We all need kindred spirits along the way. My hope at the Abbey is that you find them online, through the virtual dimensions of this work, as well as make live connections with other monks and artists in your local communities to help start a contemplative and creative revolution!
This place is a temenos, a sacred space and container for your own inner work. In the Greek imagination, a temenos is a sanctuary. For Carl Jung, it was a safe place where soul-making happens. The call is for the fruits of this inner work to be shared generously with the world.