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Stopping by the Holy Well
Gentian blue sky,
dandelion seed clouds play
hide and seek with the sun.
The long walk on the pilgrim
road, across blooming limestone
to this flowing fissure.
Brightly colored ribbons hang
like old party streamers
from branches, banners
of longing: a prayer for healing
the great divide of the heart,
or a beloved consumed by cancer.
Or simply an echo of the psalmist’s
ancient cry, “How long, O God?”
into the vast and thunderous silence.
No pronouncements in reply,
no choruses of Alleluia.
Only moss and streams and birdsong,
only the knowing that life still
burgeons here on the edges of
our own landscapes of loss.
I plunge in my hands.
—Christine Valters Paintner
Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
Over the last two weeks my days have been filled with journeys to holy wells and the sacred ruins of monasteries hundreds of years old. My days have been filled with the companionship of fellow pilgrims, who traveled here to Galway, Ireland from the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, making the global community of the Abbey so very real and alive.
Together we sang chants inspired by the Psalms, read poems aloud, walked in sunwise circles around the wells and other holy sites keeping ourselves in alignment with ancient practices and the forces of the cosmos, we hung ribbons on the rag trees to ask for prayers, and we plunged our hands into the healing water rising up from beneath the earth.
We also ate beautiful meals together and shared what was stirring in each of our hearts, how the journey was calling forth something both new and very old. Pilgrimage is often about remembering something we have forgotten while also embracing the act of self-forgetting so that we become one with the thousands of others who have made this journey before us.
When I started the Abbey 8 years ago now, I never could have anticipated all that has unfolded. I did not know this would be become a global community and movement of hearts committed to a different way of being in the world. I did not know that I would be called to uproot myself and make the journey to the wild edges of Ireland and then welcome other pilgrims there.
Ireland has offered us so many gifts and has been calling us to plant ourselves even more firmly here, to travel away less, and rediscover the gifts of the sacred ordinary in our daily lives. Ireland has been a muse for my own poetic heart, sparking a new dance of words in my imagination.
Ireland also has a troubled history, like any land, and like other places it carries both wounds and blessings. It is such a privilege to be a part of the healing of memory through acts of love and devotion to the sacred so alive in this place, as well as part of the reclaiming of ancient wisdom for our times.
The poem above was inspired by one of my favorite holy wells, St. Colman’s, at the site of his hermitage cave. It requires a twenty-minute saunter over the rocky limestone of the Burren and across a threshold of hazel trees to reach this sanctuary. Within the circle of hazelwood, and nestled into the base of the mountain, is a gushing well flowing into a stream of living water. The rag tree stands guardian over the space and invites prayers to be tied to her branches.
If you make a short climb up the hill past the oratory, there is the small cave where St. Colman is said to have retreated to with a rooster, a mouse, and a fly. The rooster awakened him for morning prayer, the mouse made sure he did not fall back to sleep, and the fly walked along the page of his Psalter to keep his attention on the lines of the text. He lived in communion with creatures and there are dozens of delightful stories of these Irish saints and their intimacy with creation.
I was aware these last few days of journeying with our private group who arrived soon after our pilgrimage group left, that I was on a threshold. I was about to enter the holy space of summer’s spaciousness, where I have made a commitment to nourishing my body and my health while I finish writing my manuscript. So I asked for blessings myself in these places, I asked for the wisdom to savor my time, I asked for clarity and courage to really listen to what wants to break through in this season ahead.
What are the prayers on your heart as we pass across the threshold into summer (or winter for our southern hemisphere monks)? What is it the season for in your own being?
We have a special summer gift for you! Subscribe to our newsletter for the next in our series of digital art journals, this one on Illuminating Mystery: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice. This is one way I offer my gratitude to you for your wonderful support of this work and your commitment to an alternative way of being in the world.
For more reflection this week, stop by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan’s guest post on psalms. The Abbey is thrilled to be offering a summer online class on Exile and Coming Home: An Archetypal Journey through the Scriptures and Richard is one of the main teachers along with John Valters Paintner, Ronna Detrick, and Roy DeLeon. And we have a new Monk in the World guest post by fellow monk in the world Robert Rife.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo by Christine at Kilmacduagh Abbey