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What is a Monk?

There is a story from the Desert Fathers where one asks another “what is a monk?”  And the response was “someone who asks ‘what is a monk?’ everyday.”

Laurence Freeman, OSB at the World Congress of Benedictine Oblates in Rome began his talk on contemplation with this image and invited us as Oblates to consider the same possibility – that being an Oblate means asking ourselves, ‘what is an Oblate?’ every single day.  I loved this definition shaped by a continual return to questions.  It embraces one of the central hallmarks of Benedictine life which is a commitment to conversion.  Conversion of life means that we recognize we are always on a journey and have never fully arrived.  It means we are willing to allow God to surprise us and shake us from our complacency.  It means our identity is always evolving.

We might consider this definition for anything that is a meaninful part of our self-understanding.  Each day I ask myself what it means to be an Oblate in this moment in time – and I ask myself what it means to be an artist and writer, a friend and wife, a teacher and mentor.  I keep asking myself these questions because I recognize that the meaning of these dimensions of myself keep ripening and emerging with new discoveries about who I am and who God is.  I continue to live more deeply into who I am, and in the process I continue to become a monk.  I continue to deepen as a writer and artist.  I continue to learn how to love well as a friend.  I continue to discover new ideas moving through me and emerge in my teaching.

What is the identity to which you keep returning and discovering new dimensions?

(photo taken at the Abbey of Montecassino)

* Stop by this week’s Poetry Party *

© Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts

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8 Responses

  1. Very thoughtful and beautiful. Instead of trying to define or figure out or set boundaries around, perhaps I am called to simply stay open to change in every moment. Isn’t that where awe and wonder reside? In this moment? The weather changes moment by moment. The formation of clouds is delightful to watch. The seasons change and I am changing every day. Even as a child of God, I am different today from what I was yesterday. God’s gaze does not “pigeon hole” me, but calls forth endless possibilities. Does my gaze allow others to simply be?

  2. I find that my identity as Christian, Writer, Painter – Christian/Artist – come together more and more. All three (or two) seem to call me for their attention and all three give me extraordinary comfort when I devote my time and attention to their presence in my life.

  3. thought-provoking question. creator and image of the creator are the two that popped into my mind… hmmm. i’ll have to ponder those. i, too, love the idea of returning to the questions and this process of evolution. i continue to think of myself as “an unfinished woman” and i am quite delighted with that, because if i am finished…then what??? perhaps that is THE/MY identity i return to and continue discovering: “an unfinished woman.” Yes. :-) xoxo

  4. Thanks for the link Rebecca. Intriguing identities you are exploring. I also cultivate the inner warrior as the aspect of the inner masculine who cultivates healthy boundaries.

  5. Hi Christine, I love the synchronicities of the blogs that I follow. One of your fellow Benedictines, Macrina Wiederkehr, writes about a very similar idea today at her site, Under the Sycamore Tree (

    One of my identities that is continually evolving is my Christianity with all of the projections, preconceptions and misconceptions that is inherent in that word. I continually ask myself what it means for me me to be a Christian.

    Another that I am just now starting to explore is the identity of “warrior” as it is spoken of in the Buddhist tradition. It is not an identity that I am comfortable in yet.

    Kigen, I love your idea of typing in the blog as a spiritual practice. It’s made me think that even when I have to type my own address in here and there I feel irritated at the extra effort. I will never look at it the same again.

  6. what a beautiful response kigen – I love the image of feminist as shepherd and the kaleidoscope of identity. Thanks for the very kind words too. :-)

  7. What is the identity to which you keep returning and discovering new dimensions?
    FEMINIST very definitely! Right now it means “shepherd,” a profound transformation for me, more than any other I had ever imagined. The name of one’s blog I think also has a huge influence on the blogger as a kaleidoscopic identity. Some blog names are so transformative I type them in by hand whenever I have time, instead of linking, just to feel that power of the name. ABBEY OF THE ARTS is one of them!