Approaching the door, you can already
hear his generous laughter.
He stands on the bar upside down for a moment
to get a new perspective on things,
a flash of polka-dotted boxers
as his brown robe cascades over his head,
sandaled toes wiggling in the air in time with
a fiddle playing in the corner.
Rain falls heavily in the deepening darkness
and he orders a round of drinks
despite his vow of poverty and the single silver coin
in his pocket, multiplied by the last Guinness poured.
Nothing like a good glass of wine, he gleefully says,
heavy Italian accent echoing through the room,
he holds it up to the overhead light, pausing for a moment
lost in its crimson splendor, breathes deeply.
At ease among fishmongers and plumbers,
widows and college students, and the
single mother sneaking out for a moment
of freedom from colic, cries, and diapers.
As the wind blows rain sideways, in come the
animals, benvenuti to pigeons, squirrels, seagulls, crows,
and the neighborhood cat balding from mange,
a chorus of yowls, coos, caws, and meows arising,
all huddle around him. No one objects to the growing
menagerie, just glad to be dry and warm.
He clinks glasses all around, no one left out.
—Christine Valters Paintner
Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
Above is my latest poem to accompany one of the dancing monk icons. St. Francis has always struck me as one of the most earthy and approachable saints, someone you might run into at a pub and would make you feel like you were old friends.
With so much continued heartbreak in the news, I reflected a long while this week on the value of our inner monk and artist at times like these. It might be tempting to think that our commitment to love and beauty, to slowness and spaciousness, to wonder and presence are luxuries in times of so much violence, so much rending of bodies and spirits.
While none of us can save the world, we can create sanctuaries in our lives, places where compassion is the automatic response rather than fear, where we turn to hope and trust before anxiety, love rather than judgment.
I have no easy answers for the struggles we must face together, other than to know that these practices help to create a sense of presence I would otherwise not be able to hold onto. We might be tempted to think that engaging in contemplative practices will automatically lead to a life of peace, yet we know from the ancient desert mothers and fathers, that the practice is one for a lifetime. We will come up over and over against the inner and outer struggles. We are called to return to the deep heart each time, the place where profound peace is possible.
And community is an essential part of this path as well. I am deeply grateful for this virtual gathering of thousands who show up here and say this matters. Just like those arriving to the pub with St. Francis, you are all welcome here. Know yourself as a part of something much bigger.
If you would like to explore the gifts of the monk and artist paths in more depth, I invite you to consider registering for Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist, a 12-week online journey which begins September 1st. Gather with a small community in our dedicated virtual space to work through my book The Artist’s Rule together, guided by two fabulous facilitators.
If you are a young adult considering joining us in Ireland next spring on pilgrimage, please let us know of your commitment by September 17th.
With great and growing love,