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“Dwell” (a love note from your online Abbess)

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Dwell beach

Dearest dancing monks,

dwell 2I have been sitting and listening for my own word. It arrived first about a week or so ago. I have been blessed to have some quiet time over the holidays to reflect on the inner and outer movements of this past year. Reflecting on the significant shifts for me over the last year helped to open the door for where I am being invited to focus my love and attention for the year to come.

Last year held many significant shifts for me. From April through August I had several serious health challenges. Then there came new insight into some things draining me and holding me back. In October was the incredibly grace of our 20th anniversary celebration with friends from the U.S. and Ireland coming together to help witness our abiding love and commitment.

This was followed two days later by our storage unit from Seattle finally arriving. When we embarked on this pilgrimage, releasing our things felt essential to the journey – home, car, furniture, books, and more. We kept one small storage unit and have been paying the fees for the last two and a half years. It felt like time to ship them over and receiving those things was like receiving a box of old treasures and began to weave our current home with our family stories. It felt like putting down a beautiful anchor in this place we have grown to love so much.

My word for 2014 started out as essence, as in what is of the essencel? It was a juicy question for many months, as I considered travel commitments and what in my work made my heart beat most loudly. I find good words help with discernment. Then this summer it shifted to surplus as I pondered how I might give myself the gift of an excess of resources and energy to meet the work I am called to do. I thought this word might continue to be mine for 2015, but it turns out a different word was waiting.

I was reading an article by author Sharon Blackie, Listening to the Land’s Dreaming. In it she writes about the philosopher Heidegger’s concept of the word dwelling “to describe the ways in which people perceive and relate to geographical space and specific locations. We ‘dwell’ in a place, Heidegger said, when we exist there in a freedom which also leads us to ‘spare and preserve’ that place – to live in peace with the land and with creatures, objects and people on it. . . Heidegger’s contention is that we have forgotten how to ‘dwell’ – how to be at home in the land. To dwell, we must be in tune with earth, sky, people, and the gods.”

It is these stories and this connection to landscape which roots us as human beings and gives us a sense of identity. Just as those tangible objects from my family’s past, like photos and the old secretary desk connect me to the ancestors who beat in my blood, so we can feel this sense of rooting in a place by learning the myths and the textures of the land.

Dwell “shimmered” for me and seems to call forth this quality of rootedness and commitment I am experiencing here in Galway in which I find myself letting the landscape, elements, and rhythms shape me and act as holy muse to all that is being birthed in me.

Dwell recalls the vow of stability for me. For the last two and a half to three years peregrinatio has been the dominant theme, as we set ourselves free to follow the call of the Spirit, looking for our place of resurrection. Even having lived in Galway for the last two years, for much that time we were still uncertain if this was it. Now there is a shifting, a longing to claim this as home.

Dwell: (from various dictionary definitions)
1. to live or stay as a permanent resident
2. to live or continue in a given condition or state (e.g. “dwell in joy”)
3. to linger over or ponder in thought, direct attention to something
4. to make a home
5. to remain for a time

Dwell invites me to make a home, to remain here for a long while, and to deepen into the stories of this place, making them a part of me.

But dwell also invites me to consider what kind of internal house I want to inhabit. What do I want to dwell in? How do I choose to inhabit my days?  Dwell asks me to not to linger in resentment, anxiety, or anger, which have occasionally been some of the shadows lurking inside me these last few months. Dwell asks me to choose joy, possibility, and paradox. Dwell asks me to inhabit a sense of surplus and generosity. I love these multiple meanings of the word because it speaks to a range of things close to my heart right now.

Where do I choose to dwell this coming year? In friendships, in this holy landscape, being shaped by the rawness of the elements, the wild edges of where earth and sea meet, the sacred rhythms of tides and moon cycles and seasons. I imagine each of these like a temple or sanctuary I can choose to enter and draw upon the fire there.

Then I was reminded of Emily Dickinson’s poem about her vocation as a poet in which she writes: “I dwell in Possibility.” and goes on to write “The spreading wide my narrow Hands / To gather Paradise–.”

I wrote my word in the sand on the shores of Galway bay and then on a stone from the Burren to place on my desk as a tangible reminder all year long. One of the suggestions in our free 12-day mini-retreat for letting your word choose you (available through this link) is to write a poem once your word has arrived as an acrostic:

Down by the sea-sprayed stones which
Whisper of the ancient ways, I pray at these sacred
Edges, hearing the call of the wild to
Listen, linger, and send roots down in this holy

I encourage you to explore the various dimensions of your word. Look up the definition, write it in the sand or on a stone, find poems which use it, write your own poem about it. Then let us know what word has chosen you and allow it to be a touchstone for discernment throughout the year.

A word for the year acts like a guiding star, leading you to places you might not have gone otherwise.

With great and growing love and fondest blessings for the year ahead,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Photo top: “Dwell” – my word for 2015 written in the sand by Galway Bay
Photo above right: writing my word on a stone to keep on my desk throughout the year

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