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Air travel is like
ancient pilgrims walking on their
knees, flight delays and narrow seats
offer their own kind of penance.
You jettison excess baggage,
leaving behind the heavy makeup case,
knowing the rain will
wash you free of artifice.
Books you wanted to carry left too,
no more outside words needed,
then go old beliefs which keep
you taut and twisted inside.
Blistered feet stumble over rocky
fields covered with wildflowers and you
realize this is your life,
full of sharp stones and color.
Red-breasted robins call forth
the song already inside,
a hundred griefs break open under
dark clouds and downpour.
Rise and fall of elation and exhaustion,
the tides a calendar of unfolding,
a bright star rises and you remember
a loved one waiting miles away.
A new hunger is kindled by the sight of
cows nursing calves in a field,
spying a spotted pony, you forget
the weight and seriousness of things.
Salmon swim across the Atlantic,
up the River Corrib’s rapids to the
wide lake, and you wonder if you have
also been called here for death and birth.
This is why we journey:
to retrieve our lost intimacy with the world,
every creature a herald of poems
that sleep in streams and stones.
“Missing you” scrawled on a postcard sent home,
but you don’t follow with
“wish you were here.”
This is a voyage best made alone.
—Christine Valters Paintner
Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
I wasn’t planning on writing to you again so soon, and yet I couldn’t let the Solstice go by without a mention as I so love the wisdom of the seasons. Here in Galway last night the sun did not dip below the horizon until after 10 at night and full darkness did not descend for another hour. The golden glow of the sun’s light so late in the day was beautiful to behold and a reminder of how far north we live. As someone who loves the quiet of darkness, I am glad that the earth is shifting today and beginning the long slow journey back toward the womb of night.
Of course, in the southern hemisphere, our fellow monks are experiencing quite the opposite as the descent to winter has reached its peak in terms of sun hours lessening, and now the shift is moving toward welcoming in the growing light. It is amazing to think that our planet is experiencing such diverse movements at the same time.
I think of all of these seasonal shifts as a cosmic pilgrimage. The sun’s journey across the horizon, her arc over the sky, always shifting and changing and reminding us that the journey is ongoing. Sometimes we might think of pilgrimage as a voyage to a destination, but the ancient monks knew it reflected something much deeper, the always unfolding quality of life.
The solstice also reflects the call to pause in this midst of the journey. It is a threshold, a resting place in the midst of life’s ever onward flow, a place to reflect and savor all that has come until that moment. A time to let go of the busyness which sweeps us in its clutches and commit again to a more slow and present way of being where other wisdom can emerge from beneath the productive and logical mind.
I have a great fondness for this time of the summer solstice as my birthday is on Monday, June 23rd and John’s is Tuesday on the feast of St. John the Baptist. We are actually born a day apart on the same year, so our birthdays are usually a two-day long celebration of us. :-)
Even more remarkable is that several years ago in our early travels to Europe together, we discovered that the solstice here is often celebrated on June 24th because of St. John’s day, and begins the night before, on the 23rd for an all-night festival. In Latvia, where my father was actually born, it is their biggest national holiday, so the year we turned 40 we made an ancestral pilgrimage there for our birthdays as the whole country celebrated. Many other European countries hold this Christianized tradition as well.
These pilgrimages we made to places like Latvia, Austria, Germany, Belgium, England, and Ireland over the years were all journeys to make ancestral connections. But they also opened up inside of us a deep appreciation for the way that pilgrimage calls us back to ourselves and helps us to “retrieve our lost intimacy with the world” as the poem above says. These journeys help to awaken a new kind of attentiveness to the way the world acts as inner catalyst and calls forth our inner transformation. And even if you make the journey with a loved one, it is ultimately something which calls us to our own solitude and search for inner meaning, our unique gifts to be broken open.
Pilgrimage also leads us to surprising places, to make other journeys we didn’t expect. Certainly when John and I began our soulful travels together we didn’t imagine ourselves one day living in Ireland and we definitely didn’t imagine at the time the grace of welcoming other pilgrims to this place we have now rooted ourselves.
What journeys are calling to you? How might you awaken to the way the world is inviting you deeper into yourself? Can you offer up a holy pause at this threshold time to savor and remember?
Sheila Massey Connor, one of our pilgrims from our May journey has been writing wonderful reflections on her experience at her blog, you can see some of her posts here and here. (Click here for more details on the pilgrimages we offer – spaces available in some of our 2015 dates.)
The next time you hear from me will be in mid-July (July 11th is the Feast of St. Benedict!) when we announce the lineup of online classes for the coming year. We are very excited about what we are dreaming up in the spaciousness of our summertime, plus there will be an opportunity to subscribe to the series of online retreats for a discount and with extra gifts. (Hint: the dancing monk icons will be featured for Advent!)
In celebration of the solstice and our birthdays, we are releasing some new self-study classes below, along with free gifts for registering (now through June 24th)! See below for more details.
And if you live in Ireland, John and I are also holding the possibility of starting some monthly gatherings for monks in the world here, so please email me if you are interested in finding out more.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo by Christine (Christine and John on the beach in Jurmala, Latvia on the eve of St. John’s Day)
New Self-Study Classes Available and Solstice / Birthday Sale!
We have some new self-study classes available. Our Soul Care Institute is changing format and so we are making some of the classes which have been a part of that program available to a wider audience.
Register for any one of these by the end of Tuesday, June 24th and also receive a free digital art journal titled Season by the Sea. This was one of the favorites of the series when I had them printed.
Register for two or more and receive Season by the Sea plus a $20 discount coupon good toward any future program (including live retreats).
To claim your gifts register for the class(es) you want by the end of June 24th and then send Christine an email with your request.
- Earth as Soul Care Matrix: The Wild Heart of Ministry**
- A Midwinter God: Making a Conscious Underworld Journey**
- Live it to Give it: Essential Practices of Soul Nourishment and Self-Care (with Kayce Hughlett)**
- Exile and Coming Home: An Archetypal Journey through the Scriptures (register now and receive access starting August 1, 2014)
- Honoring Saints and Ancestors: Month of Remembrance (now available as a self-study class which you can start at any time)
Register now and start them at any time in the future.
**For these first three classes, you also have the option of adding individual spiritual direction (with Christine) or individual coaching (with Kayce) for an additional fee.