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Rainer Maria Rilke and the Archetype of the Artist ~ A love note from your online abbess

Dearest monks and artists,

If you haven’t yet made a commitment for the season of Lent, I invite you to join our online retreat experience on the practice of lectio divina. The retreat begins Wednesday and includes live webinars and a community forum. More details at this link>>

Our next session in our Illuminating the Way series is tomorrow and will be on the great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke and the archetype of the artist. Registration details below.

Rilke is, perhaps, an unlikely candidate at first glance to join our circle of monks and mystics. He was undeniably opposed to the institutional church, rejected dogma and what he considered to be second-hand experience of God. On his first visit to a Russian monastery in his twenties, however, he fell in love with the spirituality there, the atmosphere, the reverence, which led him to write one of his first books of poetry, The Book of Hours, inspired by monastic tradition.

His poems in that book reflect the longings of an imagined monk. But even beyond that initial book, Rilke’s poems continued to be suffused with a desire to grow in intimacy with the sacred dimension of the world. He also took his life as poet and artist very seriously, and especially through some of his 11,000 letters, as well as several books of poems, we have a window into great wisdom for the creative life. He believed in art as a “cosmic, creative, transforming force” and invited us to consider it no less than this.

In Letters to a Young Poet Rainer Maria Rilke writes:

“There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple ‘I must,’ then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.” 

Rilke is addressing this to a writer, defining what is needed for full commitment to the creative life. You could substitute the word “write” with create, paint, dance, garden, cook, love well, or any other creative endeavor and then read the words again and see what they stir. Strong words, with perhaps a hint of the Warrior at play setting those boundaries. You might pause here for a moment and reflect with Rilke. Must you create? Do you experience a compelling need to express your deep desires? If so, how do you build your life in such a way as to support this?

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Dancing monk icon © Marcy Hall (prints available in her Etsy shop)

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