"Even under its burden / the soul awakes and sings"
—Trish Bruxvoort Colligan, from her song "Soul Awakes and Sings" off her just about to be released album Wild Acre)
We must risk delight. . . We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. . .
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
—Jack Gilbert, "A Brief for the Defense" (excerpt)
"I want / to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees."
—Pablo Neruda, Love Poem XIV (excerpt)
Dearest monks, pilgrims, and artists,
Spring is slowly arriving here in Galway. We have had several days of glorious sunshine, when we can throw open the windows, interspersed with western Ireland's moody, misty weather. This dance will continue through the summer.
Many of you at the Abbey know Trish Bruxvoort Colligan as one of our beloved wisdom council members, a treasured teaching colleague, and a fabulous musician as well. She is about to release a new album called "Wild Acre" (as in, "keep a wild acre alive in your love" – and you know the Abbey is all about cultivating some wildness of heart out at the sacred edges of life).
As one of her campaign funders, I had the privilege of getting an advance listen this past week. Her song "Soul Awakes and Sings" has been shimmering for me, and I find myself singing the line quoted at the top of this love note spontaneously. It rises up and wants to be given voice. These kinds of encounters become a kind of lectio divina with life, where a moment of life shimmers forth, offering a sacred invitation that is revealed slowly over time.
This was a difficult winter weather-wise in Ireland. Fierce winds combined with super high tides and heavy rain made for lots of flooding. Over this past year I have befriended the wind, but her howling strength made it difficult to get out for our walks by the sea which keep me awake and grounded, and a restlessness grew in me.
I found myself also struggling with other things internally. Some of it financial, some of it health wise. It is, of course, a tremendous gift to do the work I do and earn a living from it, and we earn just enough at the moment to cover our needs. But then the demons of anxiety and future planning cause me to wonder if we will be able to ever save for the future. Or what might happen if serious illness strikes and one of us is unable to work. Being self-employed can sometimes feel a bit precarious. For whatever reason, this winter was a time for these concerns to visit and settle in for a while.
There is a stream in spiritual circles that would want me to simply rally hope and happiness loud enough to drown out those worries. They might tell me to have faith, or to trust, as if it were as easy as clicking my heels and think my way to different thoughts.
Instead, I practiced that most challenging of monastic virtues, hospitality, and welcomed in the anxieties and fears, but instead of letting their appearance have the final say, I sat with them and listened for what was underneath. I remembered our dog Winter who came to us so afraid of humans that she would never reveal her belly for rubs, and how with time and love, she eventually, slowly, carefully, rolled over on her back and exposed herself in that most vulnerable way.
My practice this past season became making space for the things that were difficult. As I sat in the discomfort I slowly saw the tenderness beneath revealed. I felt this extraordinary compassion for all the people I knew struggling financially, the sometimes relentless feeling of always pushing forward. I felt bound to others in new ways by being honest about this place within me, and deep gratitude for the opportunities I have been given. I have not solved the issue, only softened my relationship to it and found a sweetness there.
It is one of my deepest convictions that when we are true to the deepest experiences of fall and winter in our souls, that we carve out space for a more profound kind of joy. In the seasons of my own life, I have had many dark journeys, struggled with depression a hundred times over, and learned the kind of fierce attention the desert monks brought to all of life. And in that fierce presence, there are cracks in the dry soil that make way for the buds of springtime. The challenge is that we must sit in the space of unknowing, truly in the dark as to when the spring will come.
In my own journey, I have learned that when these struggles come to visit, that denying them only pushes them underground, choking out the life awaiting me. And so I have cultivated a trust in the soulfulness of honest struggle, knowing that it may not bring me where I want to go, but I will be transformed.
One of the things I love most about living in Galway are the extraordinary opportunities to hear live music by so many talented musicians. Sitting in a pub or a theater, music brings me fully present and calls to mind the great writer Dostoevsky's words that "beauty will save the world." In the arts I can discover a place where I can live with the difficult places of life right alongside its beauty. I can embrace the whole spectrum of my aliveness.
With completing our first pilgrimage group here in Ireland, the arrival of calmer weather and warmer breezes, and my excited anticipation over nearly a month of traveling in the U.S. to visit family and teach coming up next week, my soul is definitely shifting toward spring.
So I listen to Trish's song, and hear those haunting lyrics speaking truth to me, "even under its burden, the soul awakes and sings" and my heart ushers in an honest amen. I "risk delight" as Jack Gilbert advises is his powerful poem, and discover that in this act of yielding to the joy awaiting me in the midst of burdens, God does to my soul what spring does with the cherry trees.
And when the sorrow visits again, I can greet her like an old friend, and know that she is only passing through. I have learned to trust the rhythm of the seasons. I have learned to cherish the wisdom of both winter and spring.
If springtime isn't arriving yet to your soul, can you offer a hospitable place to winter?
Is there a song speaking to your heart, carrying a prayer with it?
Join us for a new Community Lectio Divina posted with a text from the Song of Songs inviting you into your own blossoming, a new wonderful Monk in the World guest posts by fellow monk in the world DG Hollums, and an update from one of our Earth Monastery Project grant recipients building a Monarch butterfly waystation (plus grant applications are currently being accepted).
If your heart is longing for some springtime of the soul in community, consider joining us for Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist online and starting soon (just a couple of spaces left!). For those of you seeking the wisdom of the Celtic tradition through personal encounter, we have just posted 2015 dates for our Monk in the World Pilgrimages to Ireland.
If you are a young adult (20s or 30s) or you know someone in that fresh time of life who would cherish time spent in Ireland in a retreat-style pilgrimage exploring Celtic wisdom for discernment, we will be posting details soon for a journey next March 18-25, 2015. Let me know if you want more information.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo of tulips by Christine