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“The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.”
—Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
I didn't write a love note last week because I gave myself permission to not send out a newsletter. We were in the midst of leading our first group of pilgrims here in Ireland and I needed to devote all of my energy to them. It was a wonderful week, we really couldn't have asked for a better group of participants – willing to walk into all that felt uncomfortable, willing to share of their hearts, and willing to laugh freely.
There was much joy and ease in our time together, even with the heavy rains and occasional hail on several days, bringing with it four different rainbows on our first day of outings. We had a true experience of Ireland in all of her wild glory. The pilgrimage was a journey to the sacred edge and we encountered edges in many ways.
It will take me some time to integrate all that unfolded in that time for me. It was such a deep honor and privilege to share Galway with fellow monks and pilgrims and I found myself so enlivened by singing and praying at these ancient holy sites. To stand among ancient stone ruins, which hold hundreds of years of prayers, and to bring those spaces alive again with our voices and our dreams was a deep blessing.
For those eight days we formed a community of support, always with the agreement that after the time was over, we would return home with the gifts received. We were there to support one another on the threshold. And so now the task is to integrate the jewels of transformation into ordinary life.
The time was such a beautiful affirmation of what John and I most want to offer in these pilgrimages, which is a small and intimate experience of community, where the other pilgrims might become friends, where we spend time in each place rather than rushing and never really experiencing anything, where the ancient stones would come alive again in our presence and we could join all those who had stood there before us and felt a deep longing, and where we eat wonderful food (have I mentioned how wonderful the food is in Galway?).
One particular grace was our van driver, also named John. He turned out to be the perfect guide and companion for our group, gentle and kind, with the heart of a monk. He didn't just stay in the van keeping to himself, but joined us on our hikes and explorations. I could tell he was touched by how differently we were interacting with the sites. So often, he told me, he is hired to drive people as quickly and safely to as many places as possible in a day so folks can see as much as they can, but never really experiencing any of it. The paradox is that by slowing down and choosing only a couple of places to visit, we were able to have encounters with these holy places that is just not possible with large crowds and all that rushing. The slowness opened up these places to us, holiness yielded herself to us because we did not rush by.
This is definitely the invitation to us, as monks in the world. The quote above from Merton is one of my favorites, because it speaks to me so clearly and directly about the dangers of our busy lives. We live lives of grasping and consuming, caught up in the breathless pace of it all, feeling overwhelmed.
Whether or not you can come to Ireland to join us for pilgrimage, you can make choices to pack less into your daily schedule, to allow for holy pauses between commitments, to give your full attention to what is before you in this moment. In this simple act, you offer a grace to the yourself and to the world. You resist the violence we do to our bodies and spirits and open the way for delight and desire to rise up. What might you discover if you don't try and do everything feeling stretched thin, but only a few things with full attention and love?
I will share more next week, once I have had some time to let these things ripen within my own heart. In the meantime, will you promise me to linger over some deep breaths? Will you find the gift of spaciousness waiting for you?
The Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist only has two spaces left, starting on April 21st, it is a small group journey online over 12 weeks through my book The Artist's Rule. If you are looking for some kindred souls and a deep and meaningful dive into your own inner monk and artist, please consider joining us.
We have a new Invitation to Dance posted on the theme of "Return to me with your whole heart" and three new wonderful Monk in the World guest posts by fellow monks in the world – from last week Hana Truscott and Asther Bascuna-Creo, and this week from Carolyn Ash. Stop by, linger, and see what is sparked in your heart.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo by Christine: Rainbow at Kilmacduagh Abbey