Imagine the hubris, searching for the Saint-promised island,
the stubbornness to continue for seven journeys around the sun.
Each day on the rolling sea, his fellow monks
jostled and tossed by waves.
Brendan asks late one evening:
How will I know when I find what I seek?
Easter Sunday brings liturgy on the back of a whale,
but as if that weren’t miracle enough, they travel onward.
The ship is tossed onto sand and stone.
they look up to behold a broad and magnificent
oak frosted with white birds hiding the branches entirely,
downy tree limbs reaching upward.
The monks stand huddled under a blue stone sky
relieved to be on stable earth for now.
The sun descends, Vespers, rose to lavender to violet,
heralding the great night’s arrival.
They release a collective sigh of contentment, the air expands
around them as a thousand snowy birds ascend into that
newly hollowed space, and throats open together,
a human-avian chorus of shared devotion to the ancient songs and ways.
Ever eager to journey forward, Brendan still lingers for fifty days
sitting in that oak cathedral, feathers scribing their own sacred texts.
In those moments, did the relentless seeking fall away,
sliding off like the veil hiding a bride’s expectant face?
—Christine Valters Paintner
Dearest monks and artists,
I share another new poem in our dancing monk series. I love the story of St. Brendan and his long voyage. In these poems I have been seeking a moment from the stories which shimmer for me and touch my heart. Brendan and his monks land on an island where the birds sing the psalms and I love this image of them as the original monks singing the divine liturgy.
Brendan at heart is the archetype of the pilgrim, or great voyager. He calls forth our own adventuring spirit. But I was touched by this image of him pausing, resting, lingering on his way toward his goal.
On a personal note, I am basking in the tremendous love I experienced this past Sunday, as John and I went out to the island of Inismor, accompanied by a number of friends both old and new, from near and afar. We were celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary with a Celtic ritual at an ancient monastic site. Led by the wonderful Dara Malloy with song from Deirdre Ni Chinneide and Aisling Richmond, dance by Betsey Beckman, poems read by Susan Millar DuMars, Kevin Higgins, and Kayce Hughlett, our pilgrim staffs made by Laura Simmons with dozens of multi-colored blessing ribbons streaming out into the wind (many sent by you, our global community!). Then of course, just as important, the rest of the community gathered to witness our love. The evening brought live music in our living room from one of our favorite Galway bands.
It was truly more than I could have imagined. I spent most of yesterday just basking in the love I felt, in the sense of bliss and contentment over how life unfolds. This past spring and summer I had some struggles with my health, I was unsure what the autumn would bring. And it has been an utterly magical fall, from our amazing trip to the States with two fabulous retreats with even more fabulous dancing monks in attendance.
But this is the truth of our human existence – life ebbs and flows like the tide, rises and falls like the waves. In my moments of clarity, when in the midst of struggle, the greatest gift I can offer to myself are lots of deep breaths, not holding on too tightly, and welcoming in all of the tender and vulnerable parts of myself.
Likewise in these joyous seasons where I feel full and alive and connected, I breathe so as to be fully present to all the grace, I don't hold on too tightly to any one moment but savor it for the jewel it is, and I welcome in the sweet, giddy, and joyful parts of myself.
We each contain a multitude and this is at the heart of monastic hospitality – welcoming in all of the parts and recognizing that no single one defines who we are. Putting these parts into conversation with one another can bring healing and greater ease in life. These inner archetypes or energies offer us resources for embracing the full spectrum of human living.
I am reflecting more about archetypes in my latest article at Patheos:
My husband and I have been praying lectio divina every morning together for the last several months. We also pray what is known as lectio continua, or the ancient practice of choosing a book of the scriptures and then praying through a couple of verses each day until we reach the end. It is a version of monastic stability, of staying with something through all of its ups and downs. We pray texts we might otherwise avoid. Earlier this year we worked through the Song of Songs in this way, and now we are praying the Psalms one by one.
We find ourselves in the midst of Psalm 10 currently, a difficult psalm of lament. Instead of reading all the way through to the end and finding immediate resolution in the psalmist's cry of hope to God, we have been sitting each day with two verses at a time, with haunting questions about God's presence echoing through. Even more disturbing are the images of the "enemies," the ones whose "mouths are filled with cursing, deceit, and opposition." Or those who "murder the innocent" and "stealthily watch for the helpless." The psalmist later calls out to God to "break the arm of the wicked." As I sit with these images I want to turn away and say these have nothing to do with me and my peaceful life.
If you would like to explore the gift of archetypes for your own journey more deeply, consider joining us for our Advent & Christmas online retreat where we will focus on a different mystic/saint each week and the archetype they invite us to embrace.
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See just below for my gift to you as we enter this season of new beginnings and the remembrance of ancestors.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo right: St. Brendan Dancing Monk Icon by Marcy Hall