Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
I am so excited that my ninth book will be out by the end of this month, Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics (you can pre-order at the link).
Here is an excerpt from the introduction:
My husband John and I pray lectio divina most mornings together. 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.
One morning we found ourselves in the midst of Psalm 10, 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 sat each day with two verses at a time, with haunting questions about God's presence echoing through. Even more disturbing were 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 sat with these images I wanted to turn away and say these have nothing to do with me and my peaceful life.
Yet, in prayer the invitation arose: What are the ways I deceive myself? What are the places of opposition within my own heart? How do I "murder" my own innocence? Or take advantage of that which feels helpless within? How do I fuel my own self-destruction?
I discovered the psalms as a beautiful gateway of awareness into my own inner multitude.
Our heads and hearts are full of crazy, often self-defeating, competing voices. We are each a multitude of differing energies and personalities. We contain within the parts that feel tender and ashamed, alongside the courageous and fierce, the joyful and giddy. It often feels easier to simply push the voices away, but it is exhausting.
A lot of our inner conflict comes from our stubborn refusal to make space for the multiplicity we contain. One of my favorite lines from the Rule of Benedict, that 6th-century source of great wisdom for daily living, is "All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me." I love this invitation to welcome that which feels the most strange as the very face of God. The door might be outside of us, but just as easily it is within. We each have parts of ourselves we try to push away.
These voices often fight within us for primacy. They each want to define who we are. Especially loud can be the inner Judge, who thinks she knows everything. She sounds very authoritative.
There is a deeper and wiser voice, which is the Self, or sometimes called the Inner Witness. It is the calm and compassionate part that can sit in the center of all this chaos and behold it all. It is the part we develop through meditation and is not carried away by conflicting inner demands. This is the voice of the soul. In our archetypal work, Christ could be considered the exemplar of this presence within us.
When we continue to follow the Judge, or the inner Critic, or any of the especially loud and forceful voices inside of us, without recourse to the whole range of who we are, we often find ourselves full of self-doubt, insecurity, and become depleted.
These voices often originated as a way of protecting ourselves. The Judge can help us to discern what is true and good. The Critic can help cut away the excess.
Not all of the voices within us are "negative." Many of these energies can offer us tremendous resources for living in an empowered way. Some of my favorites are the inner Warrior, who helps me to set healthy boundaries. My inner Orphan reminds me that I have a lot of tenderness within, which just wants to be witnessed and not fixed. My inner Lover calls me to follow my passions in life, to remember that what I am in love with—whether ideas or communities or people—will ignite vitality in my work.
Each archetype has a shadow side and a light side. Exploring them illuminates our places of growth, helps break old patterns, calls us to step fully into our deepest passions in service to the world, and ultimately bring us to a place of greater internal freedom. They can be deeply supportive of the creative process, opening up access to different resources within us. The archetypes can offer us a powerful support for our creative living and reflection on what our passions are and what holds us back. They connect us to the place where Spirit is alive and moving in us. The archetypes, in their fullness, are also different names for and dimensions of the divine.
In this book I explore twelve monks and mystics and the archetypes they help us to illuminate. St. Francis opens up the Fool for us and St. Hildegard the Visionary. They help us in welcoming back all the lost parts of ourselves for a fuller and richer experience of the inner life.
The psalms can become a mirror to the shadow places within me. But other verses can also call forth the beauty and longings of my heart. They can remind me of the grace found in boundaries, in tenderness, in passion. You are a multitude. My deepest hope in this book is that it inspires you welcome in all of the parts of you.
Stop by Patheos for the next reflection in my series on Practicing Resurrection this season and read about seeing the world with new eyes.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo © Illuminating the Way book cover