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Serving the Mysteries

A couple of weeks ago, in my interview with Heather Williams Durka, she used a phrase to describe her work as an artist that has stayed with me: “Serving the Mysteries.”  I was really entranced by that image, because for me the spiritual journey is not so much about growing in certainty as it is about learning how to move more deeply into the heart of Mystery.  And so the idea of my work as an artist being about serving the mysteries resonates deeply.

In the January/February 2008 issue of Spirituality and Health magazine, Thomas Moore wrote in his column about religion and the mysteries of life:

“I define religion at its best as a positive and effective means of relating to the mysteries that define our lives:  love, death, birth, illness, marriage, and work, to name a few. A twenty-first century mentality sees these not simply as areas of normal living which one must deal but also as mysteries. A twenty-first century religion sanctifies them with sacraments, rituals, sacred stories, and sometimes guardian spirits. The arts serve this kind of religion by giving us strong images for contemplation, for reflecting on the life-defining mysteries, and for educating ourselves so we can live them out more creatively.”

I deeply appreciate the idea of religion as being about relating to the mysteries that define and give meaning to our lives.  The last several months have been a difficult time for me in relationship to the institutional church–perhaps I will write more about that journey here at some point soon–but for now it is enough to say that there is something shifting in me, an opening that had not been there before.  It is connected to being able to claim my role as a teacher and an artist rooted in a particular tradition of stories and practices that have persisted over thousands of years, and in recognizing my work as ultimately about serving the great mysteries of life, illuminating them in some small way. 

This past weekend I taught the second part of an intensive course with a wonderful group of students who offered the whole of themselves to our reflection and learning.  I am always lifted up by these experiences, because I see for a moment the shape of the larger movement in which I am participating.   

I worked long and hard last week to get ready for the weekend, and on Friday morning I awoke from a dream in which I was in difficult labor for several hours, pushing and pushing, and just before I woke up the baby was delivered and in my dream my body released.  I awoke with the knowledge that I was ready for the weekend ahead, having labored and given birth.  Of course, the dream for me is about even more than just the class I taught, it represents a larger shift which I am only beginning to name. Rumi wrote: “Many wonders are manifest in sleep: / in sleep the heart becomes a window.”  The wonders of my sleep have revealed the window of my heart and I am peering through the glass into the foggy night.

A Seattle acquaintaince recently visited my website and sent me a note saying that I “have allowed the Holy Spirit to go wild through (my) veins.”  Her words made me smile, what a wonderful image to hold onto.  Perhaps the only way we can serve the mysteries is to let the Holy Spirit rush through our blood untamed. 

Yesterday I was tired, I spent much of the day organizing my files and figuring out all of the things that need to get done next.  But today is my Sabbath, my Lenten commitment to a day each week free of work and worry.  I am invited to lay aside my to-do list and breathe into the mysteries of life.  They are to be discovered as much through my work and doing as through my release and being.

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

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8 Responses

  1. this post did breathe life back into my soul. thank you for all of the wonderful images and honesty. hope to see you soon. xoxoxoxox

  2. Always a breath of fresh air to read your posts – your dreams, your friend’s quote about “the HS running through one’s veins”. Thanks for sharing both.


  3. Thanks Suz, yolanda, Bette, and kigen. kigen, I love Teresa of Avila as well, her Interior Castle is such a creative vision of the soul. Thanks for providing a link to the text and some fitting commentary.

  4. Christine, I’ve gone back and read the comment by Heather on “Serving the Mysteries” — thanks for pointing to it again, it is very liberating, opening up whole new avenues of understanding, and artistic ways of praying. Currently my self-appointed spiritual director is the 16th c. Spanish mystic, St. Teresa of Avila. She also teaches a similar way of praying the Mysteries in her book called the INTERIOR CASTLE, composed as spiritual direction for members of her abbey. In fact Abbey of the Arts, fits in with it powerfully, since it is structured as a Labyrinth with arcades and gardens, fountains, and myriad pathways, filled with nature imagery, and guiding the student through seven stages or circuits of spiritual direction. Again in connection with Abbey of the Arts, reading along it feels as if one had entered the most exquisite illuminated manuscript. Teresa’s grandmotherly sensibilities and humble tone of voice are also quite wonderful and comforting. One caveat is that she has a quaint way of imaging the “devil,” as a sort of mischievous Renaissance Puck figure, which has to be taken on in childlike fashion in order to work with her text. The entire book is online at a number of sites, — also (as part of the Dickinson website) on a single page, if anyone wants to search or copy it out (takes a moment to load):

  5. I also feel this shift. Thank you for the great quotes and thoughts to help me ponder upon my new path. I definitely agree that art and story-telling are ways we can serve and celebrate life’s mysteries. Does anyone know if there is an organization that explores, educates, and exposes other cultures’ religions and spiritual beliefs?

  6. Christine…
    I only have a minute here but I have also had a long struggle with my relationship to the institutional church…to the extent that I feel I have little to offer most people in direction right now. You have such talents in offering the courses and retreats…I hope you will continue to find some hope in groups that are still searching.