Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
The season of Lent begins this Wednesday and we are offering an online retreat experience for this holy time which extends through the first week of Easter. We invite you into a contemplation of the Earth as Original Monastery and to nourish an earth-cherishing consciousness. Jesus begins his own ministry with a time out in the wilderness, seeking the ways that creation can challenge us and nourish us and reveal new directions. Imagine spending 40 days yourself listening for the wisdom of wilderness.
The monk here and now is supposed to be living the life of the new creation in which the right relation to all the rest of God’s creatures is fully restored. Hence Desert Father stories about tame lions and all that jazz.”
At the Abbey our focus is on contemplative practice in the midst of daily life. To be a monk in the world means to live in a way that is deeply attentive and present to life’s unfolding. Merton’s quote is a keen reminder of our call as monks, to live the new creation now, not later at another time. As monks we nurture our capacity to see the holy active right here in this moment. We discover that the “kin-dom” is among us now and we live as if this were true.
The Canadian Catholic Bishops wrote a beautiful letter about our relationship to the environment and they expressed three primary responses we should cultivate:
When we engage the contemplative response we gaze upon the world with eyes of wonder and love rather than with an imperialist, utilitarian stare. We allow ourselves to be astonished by nature and stand in awe of the mystery of both life and death. The contemplative gaze sees the world as sacramental. Sacramental theology has always taught that simple earthy things—bread, wine, water, oil, the embodied sexual relationship of marriage—can be bearers of divine grace. This is because the earth is the primordial sacrament.
When we engage the ascetic response we practice discipline in using the things of Earth. A healthy asceticism has always been a call to conversion and about removing what gets in the way of awareness of God’s movements in our lives. Recovering our relationship with the earth means embracing both the gifts of radical simplicity and celebrating the wisdom of our bodies together in one practice as an earth-sensuous asceticism. We live in a rampantly consumer culture, so this journey requires that we examine our patterns closely.
When we engage a prophetic response we are moved to action on behalf of justice for the earth. Because the earth is sacramental, we recognize that our destruction of earth’s systems is an act of sinfulness and wounding which demands repentance and reconciliation. We must measure our individual and collective choices in terms of the sustainability for the whole earth community.
In our time together exploring Earth as Original Monastery we will focus primarily on the contemplative dimension, because I believe that when we begin by cultivating our contemplative response to life and the world it infuses our prophetic and ascetic responses and grounds them from a place of relationship and intimacy.
This month we also return to our weekly invitations to contemplation and creativity. We begin with Community Lectio Divina with the first reading for Ash Wednesday from the Prophet Joel. We invite you to pray with the text (see details at this link)and share your responses with our community.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo © Christine Valters Paintner