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Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks (a love note from your online Abbess)

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st francisDearest monks and artists,

I have been engaged in much reflection and wonderful conversation with the Wisdom Council while I take my summer break from teaching.  Did you see the video last week of the Catholic bishops gathered in Brazil with the Pope dancing freely?  It was very inspiring, especially in light of what I have been pondering this summer.

I have long wanted to articulate more clearly what this community is about, and so this week I bring you the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks (and like everything, a work in progress):

Abbey of the Arts is a growing 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!

Why a “Disorder“?

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.

Why Dancing?

Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. —Exodus 15:20

David danced before God with all his might. —2 Samuel 6:14

If only we can bring the wisdom of the body to consciousness, spirit will no longer be homesick for home. —Marion Woodman

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.

Do you. . . ?

  • Do you long to cultivate a spacious and holy rhythm to your days?
  • Do you want to “live the questions” rather than find certain answers, believing in the grace of honest doubt and struggle?
  • Do you feel called to claim the sacred lineage of ancient monastic paths and bring that wisdom to the world?
  • Do you seek the sacred in all things, circumstances, and people, right in the midst of life’s messiness?
  • Do you desire to plunge into the heart of your own creative upwelling, knowing that when you make space for life to become art, you cooperate with the Great Artist at work?
  • Do you honor the profound dignity of each person, regardless of culture, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, or religious beliefs?
  • Do you long for a community of kindred spirits who also seek this contemplative and creative path, as a radically alternative way of being?
  • Do you believe that the earth is our first monastery, shimmering with holy wisdom, and calling us to intimacy and simplicity?

Crossing Thresholds

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 (and definitely not your 10-step plan to achieve inner peace!), but invitations which weave together to create a life of depth and service:

  1. Subscribe to the Abbey newsletter and participate in the free 7-day e-course on becoming a monk in the world (7-week format also available).  Really let yourself integrate the materials and reflect on the teachings there.  Notice your own places of resistance and growth.  Read your online Abbess’ love notes and reflect on how they stir your own soul’s longings.
  2. Sign the Monk Manifesto, making a commitment to live out its principles in your daily life.
  3. Commit to some central practices: lectio divina and practicing resurrection are two wonderful places to begin. Notice what rhythms contribute to your own flourishing. Seek out places for generosity and service.
  4. Find spiritual support in your community through a soul friend or spiritual director. If you are unable to find a spiritual director in your community, several of the Wisdom Council members are available by Skype, phone, or email for soul care and support.
  5. Tell others you are a “dancing monk” when asked about your spiritual practice.
  6. Participate in our monthly Poetry Parties, Photo Parties, and community lectio divina practices, as a way of staying connected to this vibrant larger community.
  7. Join Abbey classes as you are able for deep soul support with others, either online in community or self-study, or live and in person.
  8. Gather your own small group community.  Invite 2 or 3 friends to gather regularly and pray lectio divina together, or move through one of Christine’s books together.  Having soulful conversations opens us to new possibilities.
  9. Share and sustain the monk revolution by becoming a monk in the world and sharing the Abbey with others in your emails and conversations. Let your commitment to nurturing silence, spaciousness, slowness, and beauty spill over into your interactions.  Witness to this alternative way of being in the world.
  10. When your practice falters, remember to always begin again, and again, and again. . .

If this path calls to you, then as the Irish say, a hundred thousand welcomes!

Welcome to this Circle: A song to welcome you, from our Wisdom Council member Trish Bruxvoort Colligan

If this path resonates with your heart, please consider sharing this post with a friend or on Facebook and in the subject line write: I am a dancing monk!

Christine Valters PaintnerWith great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
*Photo: Dancing St. Francis of Assisi sculpture outside of the Cathedral in Santa Fe, NM

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