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“Please can I have a God” (a love note from your online Abbess)

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Please can I have a God
(after Selima Hill)

not fossilized, hardened, stiff, unshaken,
not contained in creeds and testimonies,
judgments and stone tablets,
but in the wound breaking open.

Please can I have a God
who asks me to worship at the altar of mystery,
to lay aside certainty, and curl up
in the hollow of a great stone down by the river,
to hear the force of it rushing past.

Please can I have a God
with questions rather than answers,
who is not Rock or Fortress or Father,
but sashays, swerves, ripens, rages
at the rape of the earth.

Please can I have a God
whose voice is the sound of a girl, long silent from abuse,
now speaking her first word,
who is not sweetness or light, but the fierce utterance of
“no” in all the places where love has been extinguished.

Please can I have a God
the color of doubt, the shape of uncertainty,
who sees that within me dwells a multitude,
grief and joy, envy and generosity, rage and raucousness,
and anoints every last part.

Please can I have a God
who rolls her eyes with me at platitudes and pronouncements
and walks by my side in the early morning
across the wet field, together bare-footed and broken-hearted,
who is both mud and dew.

Please can I have a God
who is the vast indifference of forest and night sky,
who is both eclipse and radiance, silence and scream,
who is everything slow and dark and moist,
who is not measured, controlled, but ecstatic and dancing.

Please can I have a God
who is not the flame, but the flickering,
not bread, but the chewing and swallowing,
not Lover and Beloved, but the making love,
not the dog, but the joyful exuberance when I come home.

— Christine Valters Paintner

Dearest Monks, Artists, and Pilgrims,

This poem landed in my heart a few days ago while sitting in a darkened candlelit Cathedral at night, music playing, and the invitation to quiet prayer. I had been having a week of feeling the extremes of my humanity, both profound tenderness and vulnerability, as well as deep joy and excitement, the real stuff of our holy disorder.

A couple of weeks prior I had attended a lecture by Irish theologian Mary Condren. Instead of using the term “God,” which is a noun and gives a fixed sense, she prefers the term “divinity” as offering an invitation to the movement of the holy as animating force through the world. I have been pondering her words since then, noticing even more so how images and names can fix something in our mind which should be vast, fluid, and unknowable.

When I am struggling with my humanness, I feel some disdain toward statements encouraging me to have faith or hope. Not that I reject those stances in life, but the advice always feels like it is moving me away from the opportunity to really experience the grief that is visiting me.What if instead of my needing to move toward faith, I invited God toward my pain and sorrow? As a monk in the world, who claims inner hospitality as a foundational practice, my real work comes with experiencing the fullness of my life, all of it. Not just to celebrate the beauty and joy, of which I have an embarrassment of riches and feel profound gratitude for every single day, but to welcome in the feelings of tenderness and insecurity, whatever is bringing them into my life.They are indeed wise teachers.

The poem arose in the space of that quiet hour in the sanctuary. Inspired by a poetry writing exercise I was offered in a lovely weekly workshop I am taking here in Galway (the assignment was to write a poem inspired by this poem by Selima Hill) and I offer it to you if seeing God and divinity in new ways feels life-giving to you. If you are longing for a God with more fierceness, more mystery, more capacity to hold the vast paradoxes of life and the world we live in. This is, of course, not the last word, but only a beginning.

What are the fossilized images in your own life that need breaking open?

Do check out our Invitation to Poetry for this month on the theme of soul friend and our latest Monk in the World guest post by fellow monk Valerie Hess.

I am excited to announce that prints of the dancing monk icons are now available!  We have also posted the information about our Vienna monk in the world pilgrimage May 23-31,2015.

With great and growing love,


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8 Responses

  1. I’ve always gloried in the fact that I (collectivly) was made in Gods’ image. As a result, I am not nearly as harsh on myself as others are. Its always been my heartfelt belief that my imperfections are simply part of what makes me unique. Though I do try to smooth some of the more hurtful traits, regardless the target, I know in my heart that when I’m not successful I am still just me.

  2. Who is both “mud and dew.” Beauty, innocence, fresh as the morning dew and mud what remains after the rain. New wine skins for ageless revelation.

  3. I absolutely adore this. I’ve bookmarked it and shared it like crazy. This. This is exactly the kind of God my heart longs for.