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St. Hildegard Strolls through the Garden

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St. Hildegard Strolls through the Garden

Luminous morning, Hildegard gazes at
the array of blooms, holding in her heart
the young boy with a mysterious rash, the woman

reaching menopause, the newly minted widower,
and the black Abbey cat with digestive issues who wandered
in one night and stayed.  New complaints arrive each day.

She gathers bunches of dandelions, their yellow
profusion a welcome sight in the monastery garden,
red clover, nettle, fennel, sprigs of parsley to boil later in wine.

She glances to make sure none of her sisters are
peering around pillars, slips off her worn leather shoes
to relish the freshness between her toes,

face upturned to the rising sun, she sings lucida materia,
matrix of light, words to the Virgin, makes a mental
note to return to the scriptorium to write that image down.

When the church bells ring for Lauds, she hesitates just a
moment, knowing her morning praise has already begun,
wanting to linger in this space where the dew still clings.

At the end of her life, she met with a terrible obstinacy,
from the hierarchy came a ban on receiving
bread and wine and her cherished singing.

She now clips a single rose, medicine for a broken heart,
which she will sip slowly in tea, along with her favorite spelt
biscuits, and offer some to the widower

grieving for his own lost beloved,
they smile together softly at this act of holy communion
and the music rising among blades of grass.

—Christine Valters Paintner

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

My recent illness has had me pondering herbs and healing much lately. The poem above had been percolating in my imagination for at least a week, the images dancing in my mind as I lay in bed resting and recovering. Finally came the day when I started to feel like “myself” again, the inspiration and joy returning to my daily tasks, and the poem arrived on paper.

Our theme this month at the Abbey is “sacred ordinary,” something I have also been pondering a great deal. I have been feeling a call, even before this last trip to the States, to figure out ways to stay put more at home, to deepen into the landscape of Ireland which has seduced me here to put down roots.

Illness has a way of bringing more texture to the joys of daily life. Going to the market, cooking a meal, crafting herbal remedies, and walking by the sea become the sacred ordinary when we are paying attention. Illness slows us down, so that we can attend more to what is happening in this moment of time. I fall in love with the world around me all over again.

I am more than grateful to be returned to health, and I continue to listen to the invitations and wisdom burgeoning forth in the midst of my days. I have been reminded of a truth, that creating space and slowness in the rhythm of my life means that I offer more openings for the divine voice to speak, or rather more possibility that I might actually hear those whispers. Clarity grows with slow tending. This is the path of the monk in the world. And I am full of anticipation for my slow summer of writing and more listening.

We have another group of pilgrims arriving to Galway on Tuesday and I am thrilled to show them this place I have fallen so much in love with. Please hold us all in prayer as we make a slow journey together to ancient sites, create a community of monks in the world, and discover new thresholds within us. I continue to be changed by this work, so I hold an open heart and know my work is to show up fully as myself.

In the poem above, Hildegard also knows these truths, of the slow tending of life and love, and the power (as well as challenges) of showing up with her gifts fully. Where are you feeling these invitations in your own life?

For more reflection this week, stop by John Valters Paintner’s guest post on How I Came to Love the Old Testament, The Abbey is thrilled to be offering a summer online class on Exile and Coming Home: An Archetypal Journey through the Scriptures and John is one of the main teachers.

For our Northeast U.S. dancing monks (or anyone who want to join me in beautiful Cape May, NJ this fall), the Sacred Rhythms Writing and Movement Retreat only has 4 spaces left!  We gather September 20-24, 2014 for a time of diving deep into our bodies to uncover the voice it holds and explore what it means to be a dancing monk. No yoga or dance (or even writing!) experience required. All are welcome! (I won’t be traveling as much to the U.S. in the future, so this is a wonderful opportunity to join me for a live program Stateside.)

Similarly, the pilgrimages to Ireland in 2015 are also filling quickly and the June 9-17, 2015 dates only have 3 spaces left. Or join us in beautiful Vienna, Austria (one of favorite cities in the world) May 23-31, 2015 and stay in an active Benedictine monastery in the city center.

At the Abbey blog, this week we have a new Invitation to Poetry inspired by the theme of “Sacred Ordinary”.  We also have a new and fabulous Monk in the World guest post by fellow monk in the world David Ford.

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

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