Dearest monks and artists,
It is a quiet Christmas season for us here in Galway. After returning from a beautiful trip to Prague and Vienna for ancestral pilgrimage, John and I both promptly got the flu. I spent all of Christmas day in bed with a fever, barely able to stand up. We were planning on a quiet time anyway, but now the enforced solitude of illness is our companion.
Of course it never feels good to be unwell, I am grateful that I am able to really let down and allow myself to heal during this time. I have not had a cold or flu in a year, so am offering my body lots of gratitude for its fortitude and carrying me through so many seasons so well. And I am extending lots of tenderness for what she needs right now to rest and recover.
I am also aware of illness as an experience of descent. We often fight getting sick so much because we don’t want to slow down, we have things to do, people to serve, lists of things to accomplish. Illness demands that we approach life from a place of vulnerability, of not being in full control, of having to admit our need for others.
In the descent that illness demands there can also be a kind of initiation if we are open to a way of life that is slower, gentler, kinder to ourselves. We are given space to rest into the grace of simply being, recognizing that for a time we are unable to do and we are still whole and beautiful. We are called to see the sacred at work in the hot tea, the long naps, the chicken soup, and the friends who offer their support.
I love these days of the Christmas season between Christmas day and the feast of Epiphany. They feel like time outside of time, full of reflection and dreaming. Lying feverish in my bed has only amplified that timeless quality. I awoke the other day with the words “Wisdom’s Sanctuary” on my heart. I sat with it for a long while, not so much trying to figure it out, but to dwell inside the words and see what they stirred. I think this may be my word for 2018 – a call to create sanctuary space for ancient wisdom, in a world so desperately hungry for it. I imagine I will have more to say about it soon.
As we move toward a new year, notice if your mind is drawn toward making resolutions. Resolutions are usually based in a sense of lack about ourselves, something we need to “fix” so I try to be aware of how I talk to myself. And if there was ever a time of year for advertising to make us question the beauty of our bodies, now would be it. All the promises of a “new you” are seductive. But what if you gave yourself a gift instead? What if you made a commitment to fall in love with your body instead, just as it is? Even in the midst of illness? Even in the midst of its limitations? What if you approached it through trust rather than dissatisfaction? Offered tenderness rather than harsh criticism?
Join us for a powerful journey of returning home again: The Wisdom of the Body online retreat starts in a week! Drawing on wisdom from contemplative and monastic pathways, with weekly live webinars, guest teachers, and a facilitated forum, this will be a place of rich exploration and discovery. If you are someone who identifies as a woman, we’d love to have you join us. (My apologies to the men of the community, but we have a wonderful retreat coming up for Lent on the scriptures you would be most welcome to join led by John.)
For a bonus reflection on Embracing Mystery in the New Year click this link>>
May the year ahead be full of love for this moment now and embodied delight.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo © Christine Valters Paintner