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Miriam on the Shores (a love note from your online Abbess)

Miriam on the Shores

“All the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing.” –Exodus 15:20

SONY DSCHer skirt hangs heavy with seawater,
staccato breath after running from death.
She can still feel soldiers reaching out
to seize her blouse before the waves caved in.

Collapsing on dry earth for a moment,
the impulse to dance begins in her feet,
spreads slowly upwards like a flock of starlings
rising toward a dawn-lit sky.

So many dances in secret before,
night-stolen movements after exhausting days
heaving stones and harvest.
She finds herself now upright, weeping.

To stand here, face to the sun,
feeling an irrepressible desire to
. . . tumble
. . . turn
. . . twirl

Savoring freedom with her limbs
as if it were a physical presence
like a fierce wind or the breath of labor,
shackles slipping off slowly.

She couldn’t help but dance.
The story says she picked up her tambourine,
which means she had packed it among the essentials.
In fleeing for her life, she knew this would be necessary.

How many of us still live enslaved in Egypt, beholden and weary?
Do you have the courage to run across the sea parted just now for you?
Will you carry your musical instrument and dance right there on the shores?

—Christine Valters Paintner

Dearest monks and artists,

I offer you the newest poem for the dancing monk series, an honoring of the internal movement from slavery to freedom we are each called to make. Joy is the natural response to such a journey.

Life has been full here as John and I prepare for our renewal of vows ceremony this coming Sunday. Our 20th anniversary was officially in early September, but we have this ritual time planned to coincide with the arrival of several friends from the States for our next pilgrimage. A deep bow of gratitude to everyone who sent us ribbons! They are tied to our pilgrim staffs and are like wondrous colorful streamers of celebration from our beloved community. Thank you truly!  Please send some prayers for decent weather as our ritual will be outdoors on the island of Inismor at one of the sacred monastic ruins we love so much. Of course, in the west of Ireland, the weather is always unpredictable, and part of the wildness we have fallen so much in love with here.

Next Tuesday our pilgrimage begins, and as always we are so excited to welcome a new group and share the beauty and power of this place. We feel such an incredible privilege to be entrusted with inviting pilgrims across the threshold into the liminal time of this journey and the thinness of this place. Following the pilgrimage Betsey and I head to England to teach our Awakening the Creative Spirit intensive. Then comes a long period of being at home during the stillness of winter. I have so relished the opportunity to be with dancing monks in so many capacities this fall. My heart continues to be drawn toward ways to support local connections and as space opens up again for me I will continue to ponder how we might do that.

I have been feeling much kinship with Miriam, who is called Prophet in the scriptures. To imagine this arduous journey she made and to enter in viscerally to her embodied overflow of joy at tasting freedom, calls me to my own enslaved and wounded places. This fall has revealed many new layers of patterns I am called to release in service of my own growing freedom and it makes me want to dance with abandon.

How about you, dear dancing monks? What are your own places of confinement from which you might finally break free?

For some additional reflection from me, here is one of my past columns at Patheos onLuminous Wisdom of the Night:

The darkness embraces everything, / It lets me imagine  / a great presence stirring beside me. / I believe in the night.  
—Rainer Maria Rilke in Book of Hours

The Christian feasts of All Saints and All Souls on November 1st and 2nd honor the profound legacy of wisdom our ancestors have left to us and continue to offer. In some denominations, we celebrate and honor the dead for the whole month of November. In the Northern hemisphere the world is entering the dark half of the year. The ancient Celtic people believed this time was a thin space, where heaven and earth whispered to one another across a luminous veil and those who walked before us are especially accessible in these late autumn days. These moments on the great turning of the year’s wheel offer us invitations and gifts for our spiritual journeys.

Click here to continue reading>>

If you want some guidance and reflection through the month of November, the season of remembrance, our Honoring Saints and Ancestors retreat is available online as a self-study program here.

And if you have been considering joining me in the Northwest for our Coming Home to the Body retreat April 17-21, 2015, there are only 4 spaces left in double rooms. I would love to dance with you in person and this is my only planned teaching trip to the U.S. for 2015. Coming together to be with other dancing monks live is always a tremendous gift.

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Photo right: Miriam Dancing Monk Icon by Marcy Hall (prints available here)

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One Response

  1. Christine, I love this poem. And this site. I have been off work for a broken ankle so I have been on it daily. It has been wonderful sharing my poetry and reading others. I would to do the advent retreat, it and all of your retreats sound wonderful, but I can’t unfortunately afford it. Hopefully if you reoffer it in the future, or something similar.

    I try to retreat daily by writing, as writing is my praying. But at least once a year, if not more often, I get to the Abbey of Gethsemani. I am able to speak to a couple of the monks there, as friends. I have been going to the Abbey for over ten years. I save my yearly vacation time so that I can go each March around my birthday.

    This web-site helps me to keep in “retreat mode” even when I am not at the Abbey. It is my at home Abbey.

    Please pray for direction as I make decisions regarding my job, which is extremely taxing, how to care for my elderly parents, and my own health issues, plus other stuff that is equally perplexing.

    Love and peace to you and thank you for answering God’s call and creating this portal.