This is not a poem
but a rain-soaked day keeping me inside
with you and you loving me like a storm.
This is not a poem but a record of a hundred mornings
when the sun lifted above the stone hills outside my window.
This is time for boiling water poured into the chipped cup
holding elderflower, hawthorn, mugwort.
This is not a poem but me standing perfectly still on the edge of the lake
in autumn, watching a hundred starlings like prayer flags fluttering.
This is my face buried in May’s first pink peony,
petals just now parting, eyes closed, inhaling.
This is not a poem but the field beyond thought and judgment
and the ways I tear myself apart on too many fine days.
This is the place where clocks no longer matter unless
it is the dusty gold watch which belonged to my grandfather.
This is not a poem but me standing desolate in a parade
of white gravestones, when a single bluebird lands and sings.
This is the bunch of Gerbera daisies you handed to me one foggy
February afternoon, pale yellow like the long-forgotten sun.
This is the first bite of bread after too many hungry days,
this is my grandmother whispering her secrets to me after dusk.
This is not a poem, but me taking off my clothes
and stepping eagerly into the cold mid-December sea.
This is the silence between breaths and in that stillness
this is me saying yes and yes and yes.
—Christine Valters Paintner
Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
In the northern hemisphere the earth turns toward the growing light and the call to flower forth into the world, while the southern hemisphere is moving toward the healing darkness and a call to lie fallow for a time. I love seasonal wisdom, and especially knowing that these complementary energies are embracing the earth at the same time. In the monastic tradition, praying the Hours means honoring this move into the gifts of both light and darkness with each day, so we can become more in tune with the rise and fall, fullness and emptiness of earth’s cycles.
The poem I share above is one inspired by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke who is part of our dancing monk icon series. I love this image that life itself is the poem and we are called as monks in the world to cherish and savor moments. In spring this might mean making time to be among the profusion of flowers as they begin to appear on your corner of the earth. My favorites are the peonies which will show up soon at our local farmer’s market. (Very soon we will have a book with the icons printed in full color accompanied by my poems available, along with a CD with songs for each monk/mystic, and a DVD with dance prayers. . . stay tuned for more flowering!)
I have been feeling spring energies keenly alive in my own soul’s being these last couple of months. This past season has been a rigorous one of identifying deep attachments and places of grasping and then slowly letting them go. The inner journey is always demanding but full of grace when we are willing to do the hard work. I am feeling such a sense of springtime within right now.
I love that the Abbey has its own rhythm following the seasons as well. Our winter has been a quiet one of offering online retreats and working on our own writing projects. We are now moving into our live teaching season, with a pilgrimage starting Wednesday in beautiful Glendalough, Ireland. Please send some blessings for our wondrous pilgrims who are preparing and traveling right this very moment.
Here is a bonus reflection for you from the Abbey archives on beginning again now that we are midway through Lent. Has your Lenten commitment fallen away? Take heart and know that the path of the monk is not to berate ourselves, but to humbly begin again.
With great and growing love,
Photo by Christine: St. Kevin sculpture in Glendalough