I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Karen Johnston’s reflection on the chapel of the heart:
“I welcome silence. It is a quiet cushion in between everything that captures gentle fluidity. It’s where I become satisfied with the riches of nothing and wear the jewels of the empty. It’s where magnificent infinity is amplified and my awareness becomes keen to truth. Yet, oddly, it is a villain who has escorted me into this great simplicity. The noisy world has forced me to know my truest self. The more I seem to be bombarded by the chaotic energies of modern life, the more I retreat from their clenches and find my natural solace. As I evolve, every day I become more aware of the space that I occupy in this world and seem to grow in the understanding that I am part of something vaster than I can fathom. I haven’t figured out if the wildness of life, the unpredictability, mystery and suffering are just powerful and painful distractions or if they are perhaps a more heightened showing of a knowledge that includes us in the experiential circle of life. It’s the obstacles that give me chances to grapple with perspective, challenge me to see with honesty, walk with trust and to know gratitude without hesitation. I know I am responsible for everything that I choose to emit, emote and contribute to this world. Contemplative living, for me, has defined itself through my roles as an artist, a writer, a member of a faith community and a lover of life. I am married with 3 children and know how tangled life can feel while being involved in countless activities and even struggling with life’s many curve balls. Yet, I know life brims with joy and in finding intentional solitude through the unification of prayer, meditation and artistic creation, it spills into what I am able to be and offer to the world.
I am a listener, observer, companion, and creator. Finding my own soundless landscape allows me to melt into my purpose. The physical act and discipline of regular spiritual reading, writing and painting genuinely roots me in my own reflective essence and cloaks me with a certain serenity. In my mind, although seemingly separate acts, reading, writing and painting are synonymous and help to enrich each other’s faculties by simultaneously invigorating and calming my entire being. My art and its making flows into my animated life through an undefinable sharing of color, light and peace with others. Sometimes my devoted practice yields a tangible painting or written piece upon which others can gaze and delight in what has escaped from me. Other times it composes itself into a warm, hued and heartfelt conversation with family, friends or strangers and blesses me as well as them. I relish the days when I can actually make a visit to a chapel or delve into a touching relationship with Scripture or when I can passionately indulge without interruption in my chosen habit of painting and writing. The inexplicable gifts gained on those slow and quiet days nourish me and make me aware of the sacred chapel I house within and the responsibility I have for maintaining its humility. However, life isn’t always generous with extended pockets of time and I, too, can find myself gasping for air.
I have learned from life’s teasing and sometimes harsh ways that I can aptly find a quiet chapel in my own heart almost anytime, anywhere if I focus on the recollection of those most filling moments (the sounds, smells, colors, the inspired words, images and feelings that come with those memories) and allow myself to breathe from that simple place of restful healing. When having no paint, canvas, paper or pen available, I paint beautifully chromatic pictures in my mind and etch fruitful, life-giving words upon my heart. My artistic practice isn’t solely dependent upon worldly materials. The open studio space that I find in “my heart’s chapel,” can be available to me in car trips, on the soccer field, in a meeting or even a crowded waiting room. When I wholly fuse with this inner softness and function from my interior chapel, I can extend that God given gift of peace beyond my insides. I can be a part of the glorious connectedness that knows no border, difference or constraint even above my own daily stresses. I begin to marvel at the grace-filled tranquility that slowly starts to fill me, surround me and embraces another in the simple and uncontrolled ways that it does. It is that space where strangers become friends, art bleeds into life and we all become part of the same masterpiece.
Everyday isn’t always blessed with this feeling and this grace. Honestly speaking, life is full. It pulls and pushes me, like it does everyone else, in many demanding directions. In my own ways, I have come to balance, however, the freneticism of life and make a more decisive choice as to the stable energy that I want to be a part of and that I want to put back into the world as a global citizen. The best way I can do that is to seek the daily, still encounter through my personal creative practice and to lovingly spread silence and the gifts that I gain as well as produce from this hushed and artful place. Contemplative silence is good, even in small doses as the ripple effect is mighty. Silence through presence or work can speak loudly to the discerning ear and has the power to reverently unify us in this most complicated and spectacular world.
In the Chapel of my Heart,
I hear the air flowing,
the birds singing.
I hear silence.
It is warm.
It is tender.
It is welcoming and invites me closer.
In the Chapel of my Heart,
I feel a joyous rhythm,
a completion and an ending
and a freedom from the more.
In the Chapel of my Heart,
I sense a place of blindness,
a Blessed filling.
I see clearly, vividly, lovingly,
more so than I ever have before.”
Karen Johnston is a wife and mother of three school aged children. She is an abstract painter, writer and leads a healing ministry at her church for those journeying through life-changing illness and caregivers in Nashville, TN.