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Earth Your Dancing Place (excerpt)
Take earth for your own large room
and the floor of earth
carpeted with sunlight
and hung round with silver wind
for your dancing place
—May Swenson, Nature: Poems Old and New
Dearest Monks and Artists:
I have had the great pleasure of sharing Ireland with John’s two sisters these last couple of weeks. It was their first time here and so everything was a new discovery. We loved having family so close and exploring this place we have chosen as our home together. Spring in the west of Ireland has been a wild mix of rain, wind, and sunshine. In the space of a few hours you can go back and forth between the lush, generous rainfall and then the emergence of sunlight from behind the dark clouds which brings a golden luminosity to the whole world. I have seen more rainbows than I can count.
I have been reading a wonderful book: The Blue Sapphire of the Mind: Notes for a Contemplative Ecology by Douglas Christie – I am only halfway through because it is worthy of slow reading, but the impact on my thoughts is already there. Each page I find something to highlight and ponder. Essentially Christie explores the wisdom that desert monastic spirituality has to offer us with regard to our relationship to the earth and the ecological crisis we are experiencing. It is one of those books that has reminded me again and again of why I treasure the monastic path, and why I do this work. One of the ideas he explores is the path of humility and the call to unknowing we hear from the desert elders. To release our certainty about God means to also surrender our hubris as inhabitors of this earth and let ourselves be shaped in new ways by earth’s song. I will share more as I continue to integrate his ideas.
There is a vision being birthed for the Abbey. I only have the delicate strands right now, but they include this wild edge of Ireland where I have been called to live and let it shape me (and pondering ways to shape a monk pilgrimage in spring 2014 to this incredible place). It includes the naming of this wondrous community of monks in a more formal way, celebrating what we have been called here together to explore. It includes new programs and explorations of what it means to contemplatively live in our bodies. It includes a call to explore the gifts of herbalism for physical and spiritual healing, and as rooted in the monastic way. And it definitely includes ways of being even more intentional with the earth as our primary monastery.
The words above from May Swenson came to me one morning in an email. I fell in love with this image of earth as my dancing place, the fertile dirt under our feet as the altar upon which we are called to move. Here in Ireland I have visited many forests and each time felt my heart dance. When I was living in Vienna, the Wienerwald was my favorite place to be. Something about being in a gathering of trees makes me feel at home in the world and deeply at peace.
The delicate strands are dancing together and slowly being woven into something much larger than I can even envision. My work is to keep showing up and making space for what arrives each day – to honor the insights and inklings, to dance and let my body speak her wisdom, to honor the earth as matrix of healing and wholeness. To be a monk in the world means to cherish this earth Abbey which nourishes us. It means to consider all the ways we might live more simply, and what resources are truly necessary.
This summer I will be taking some sabbatical time from teaching so I can make more space to hold all that is emerging. The invitation of the last few months has been clear: What would it be like to experience a surplus of energy? To nourish myself so fully that I have stores of life and vitality ready to meet the call that is slowly arriving? I am ready to sink into the responses to those questions.
Life has been full celebrating the arrival of my newest book this spring, and in addition to teaching an online class with a marvelous group of students, I have also been participating in a virtual book tour. You can see the latest stops below. There are several guest posts which might interest you, as well as reviews and interviews. Please share these links with others who might be interested in cultivating photography as a contemplative path.
Last summer I led a retreat where we gently moved our bodies through dance, yoga, and walking regularly throughout the day, and then paused to write from this embodied place. New layers unearthed in being able to claim our voices emerged. Joy was unleashed at the freedom of being in a supportive community where we could celebrate one another (I am thrilled to be leading this retreat again in October – only a few spaces left).
With great and growing love. . .
Photo: The forest at Cong Abbey