Dearest monks and artists,
I have been grateful for this last season, a time of descent into the outer darkness and then the stillness that comes during those in-between days from Christmas to Epiphany. There has been a bronchial flu going around Galway which I came down with a couple of weeks ago. It amplified the mood of going inward and just embracing the gift of rest. We had a very full fall with four wonderful groups on pilgrimage, including in our beloved Vienna. Then we bought an apartment in Galway and moved house. Even though it was within the same building, just two doors down, this move felt really significant.
We also have a foster dog over the holidays, a little Jack Russel/Chihuahua mix we have named Sisi (yes, after the former Empress of Austria). In Ireland the pounds all close for two weeks over Christmas and New Year’s so the rescue groups put out a plea for folks to foster during this time to make more room for incoming dogs so they don’t have to be put to sleep. This is our quiet time of year, so two years ago we fostered little Ginger Nut (who was then reunited with her owners), last year was Melba (who found a wonderful new home), and this year is Sisi. Those of you who have animal companions in your life know the gift and grace they offer, the witness to another way of being. They are definitely the original monks. My favorite moments have been her sweet snuggly presence while I journal or nap.
In the midst of all of this, I have been listening for my word for 2017. It almost always arrives slowly for me. I had thought it might be “nest” as being in our own home feels like an important threshold in our journey here in Ireland. A deep rooting down. But it wasn’t landing fully, so I waited. I tried on several other words, including my word from last year, “surplus” which I don’t think is done with me yet, but still didn’t feel like *my* word for the year to come.
Finally it came one afternoon during a long nap, in that place between waking and sleeping, I realized I was savoring my hermit time. When I heard “hermit” in my mind I remembered being at Holy Hill Hermitage in Sligo last fall and how I loved their rhythm of life which allowed for hermit days while also days when they could tend to the demands of life and earning a living. I was inspired by the balance they committed themselves to, and thought that was something I could do. So in this dream space, “hermit” shimmered. I also felt some resistance to the challenges it offers which makes me believe even more strongly it has a lot to teach me in the year to come.
While I feel incredibly privileged to lead the life I do and to live in Ireland and be able to travel for work and lead groups, I am being drawn more and more to a stability of place again. To really commit to this landscape, the stories, the people, the plants. I will still travel to my beloved Austria and Germany, but the balance will be shifting for me. I don’t have any teaching trips planned to the U.S. for the foreseeable future. I am being drawn more deeply home. And like the hermit, to seek time of solitude and silence to simply listen.
I am excited about my word’s arrival and invitations. I already try to keep Sabbath each week with John, but I am being called to a full hermit day each week for time alone as well, as much as possible, and schedule in some longer silent retreats before my time fills up. To make this my first priority again. Time to really enter into the gifts of silence and solitude.
There is a quote I love from Meister Eckhart: “I need to be silent for a while, worlds are forming in my heart.” I have often leaned into these words before when I feel the longing for a retreat rise up.
I am trusting all of this, trusting that it is leading me in a holy direction. I will let you know what I discover.
If you missed my reflection on the Feast of Epiphany – Follow the Star click the link.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE