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Pilgrimage ~ A love note from your online abbess

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

5-22-2016It is hard for me to believe that ten years ago this month I first started writing the blog that became Abbey of the Arts and a global community. It is also hard for me to believe that four years ago my husband John and I were wrapping up the details of our life in Seattle, to go on a midlife adventure and pilgrimage to Europe and see where we would land.  It is impossibly delightful that we have rooted ourselves here in Galway and now offer pilgrimages to others.

I offer you this reprise of a reflection I posted during that spring season of shifting in May 2012:

My husband and I put up the For Sale sign on our life as we know it. Our home has already sold, now we move through the process of closing. Something Holy is calling us East. It is an ancestral call, it is the call of the land itself, it is the call of our own unfolding longings. This time of preparation has many challenges and much grief and yet it is an essential part of the journey. This northwest landscape enlivens our souls, our friends are dear and beautiful, our neighborhood is thriving. This is a life we love, we are not running away from anything, but toward something invisible, yet shimmering with possibility. A new way of being, a simpler life, a slower life, a life with deep roots in ancestral stories, a life of more risk and adventure. A life full of things we can’t even yet imagine.

We are feeling the call to move toward “an invisible goal, expending great energy with the possibility of failure; to live on migratory pathways into the future. . . an ancient summons. . . against the reasonable and safe.” (Marianne Worcester) The natural world offers us so many symbols that speak to our inner life, creation is a map to the spiritual life. Everything outward is symbolic of an inner reality.

What is it that calls the great beating hearts of wild geese and king salmon, humpback whales and monarch butterflies to the very long, and often arduous, journey from one place to another? They do not doubt this call. They do not spend time and energy telling themselves stories why they can’t follow the patterns of thousands of generation before them. They obey the longing, and in witnessing to that kind of obedience, we as witnesses are taught something about being a monk in the world.

My husband and I are carried on this journey ahead by the ancient wisdom of monks:

Our obedience to a call, an invisible thread drawing us forward; our commitment to conversion and always being surprised by God, even the monastic call to stability – which usually refers to staying in one place for a lifetime – in our case means staying with our experience and all of its doubts, uncertainties, questions, and judgments, and not running away from the inner challenges of being alive.

We must embrace a radical kind of inner hospitality as we welcome in all of the strangeness that we feel in moving to a foreign culture. Navigating new worlds, learning new customs, deepening into a foreign language, are all ways of extending welcome to the stranger within ourselves.

A profound kind of humility is also being demanded of us, as we recognize that we do not know – we do not know what exactly will happen, we do not know how long we will be there, we do not know how we will be changed by this experience. We will surely stumble and fall. We will certainly act foolishly at times. We do not know the magnitude of this path.

Simplicity is also calling to us. We are selling things and home and car and will be moving into a much smaller apartment in Vienna where we will rely on walking and excellent public transit. My husband has let go of his secure income and so we will have to live simply to make our finances stretch further. And in this letting go I feel the lifting of many burdens.

What will ground us is a commitment to return to the center. To make space for silence and solitude so that we can integrate all that is happening and unfolding. So that we might listen. The monk in the world knows that these holy pauses are essential for discovering the meaning of our experiences. There is no map, only the dropping deep into our hearts to hear the next step.

To return for a moment to the metaphor of migration and nature as wise teacher, I am exploring what it means to live a wild life. A wild life is one that is not domesticated or tamed or confined into boxes of safety, convention, or expectation. It is a risky way of being, because in the wild there is always an encounter with fierce forces. But the alternative is to slowly suffocate on dreams that dissolve by never allowing the opening. Monks are not concern with maintaining the status quo. The first monks went out into the fierce desert, knowing that life on the edges was fertile and rich. Living from the wild heart means remembering that God, the source and sustainer of everything, can see horizons much wider than we ever can.

What is the invisible thread you are being called to follow?
What would living from the wild heart mean for you in this season?

Stop by Monasteries of the Heart to read my guest post there.

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Photo © Christine Valters Paintner leaving behind the U.S. in 2012 for our life pilgrimage

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