This week brings us to our final guest post from Wisdom Council members! And a wonderful way to finish is with my dear friend and teaching partner Betsey Beckman. Betsey and I met soon after I moved to Seattle over ten years ago. We discovered we made a beautiful partnership in bringing the gifts of the arts to others and created Awakening the Creative Spirit: Experiential Education in the Expressive Arts together, our 5-day residential intensive for soul care practitioners which is now in its 8th year (and later wrote a book together as well)! Over the years we have partnered in many programs, both live and online, as well as deepened into the joys of friendship. Read on for Betsey’s reflections about being a monk in the world:
When I was about 12 years old, my mom and dad drove my sister and me on a weekend trip down to Kentucky, which included a visit to the Trappist Monastery of Gethsemani, where Thomas Merton lived his community life. This was perhaps in 1969, which would have been a year or so after Thomas Merton died. By then, I had not yet read Seven Storey Mountain, but I had a sense of Merton’s profound influence on my mom and dad. The visit to Gethsemani was my first glimpse of monastic life, and I was struck by the quality of peace and stillness that graced the community there. I was quite accustomed to attending church for Mass, but I don’t think I had ever previously experienced the simplicity and song of the monastic liturgy of the hours. I clearly remember emerging from afternoon prayer, and commenting to my family that there would be so much less violence in the world if people could only experience the depth of peace that I had just been steeped in.
A few years before that, when I was perhaps six years old, I remember being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. My answer was three-fold: a teacher, a nun and a dancer. I somehow realized that there were so many needs in the world, that I obviously needed to dedicate myself to praying for the world all day long! I don’t know how I was planning on blending these longings with my desire to be married and have children. And for that matter, my other longing to be on TV, like Buffy and Jody of Family Affair, or like Marta and Grete in The Sound of Music. But all these possibilities seemed to co-exist!
A few other memories pop up on this subject as well: the time my mom helped me to decorate a shoe-box to express my desire to become a dancer, and my strong feeling that the stock images of ballerinas that I had in front of me did not express the kind of artistry I felt called to. Or the time I emerged from a parish Mass and knew so clearly that the message of the Gospel needed to be proclaimed with so much more enthusiasm than the drone of the priest’s recitation!
It’s funny when I look back and see how nothing is wasted. All these longings and experiences have woven themselves into my unique call to artistry and ministry as a kind of “monk” in the world. Even my desire to be on TV has come true, now that producing DVD’s of storydance artistry is a significant part of The Dancing Word outreach.
As Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz learned, the journey to our hearts desire often requires traveling wide for new perspectives. A significant awakening happened for me during the decade or so where church-going was not part of my regular routine. I loved having the freedom to explore Native American practices, Gaia consciousness, dream-work, yoga, Goddess imagery, Sufi chanting and more. In my journeys, many of these gifts have ended up in my own spiritual backpack!
Even so, over time, I felt myself drawn back to my Christian roots with a longing to celebrate and explore the sacredness of the body and the feminine right there in my own tradition. One of my friends once called me “a missionary to the church.” I love being anointed with this calling! In recent years, Ignatian spirituality has given me a chance to break open scripture through imagination; re-envisioning the “He” and “She” of God has invited me to an embrace of wholeness; Mary as womb of the Divine has given me feminine power; Miriam dancing through the Sea of Reeds has become my rabble-rousing mentor; Mary Magdalene has got me dancing in cemeteries and called me to France to experience her presence as sacred icon; and Hildegard of Bingen, as “patron saint” of artists and monks, is calling me to Germany to steep myself in her creativity and mystical propheticism.
In a recent conversation with my 21-year-old son about the nature of the universe, he asked me – “What do you think exists?” My answer was, “Being evolving through love into consciousness.” His answer was even simpler than mine: “Creativity, which is consciousness.” I wonder how he came upon the notion of the foundational unity of creativity and consciousness? He contemplates these mysteries even more fervently than I!
I have wandered far from the Abbey of Gethsemani, and yet, by opening to this page in the book of my life, I now discover a quote from Thomas Merton that delights and affirms:
“They were in the world and not of it–not because they were saints, but in a different way: because they were artists. The integrity of an artist lifts a man above the level of the world without delivering him from it.” —Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain
As monks and artists, may we delight, express, transform and celebrate. And as we dance more deeply, may the world be lifted evermore into freedom, be embraced evermore by beauty, be drawn evermore to peace.