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Join us for an online retreat this Lent ~ A love note from your online abbess

Dearest monks and artists,

I am delighted that John Valters Paintner will be taking the lead on our Lenten retreat online. He has a great love for the scriptures, and taught them at the high school level for many years. The upcoming retreat is the fruit of years of his reflection on exploring some overarching themes in the Bible. What follows is an overview of what the retreat will cover and the rich questions you will be invited to explore:

Week 1: Introduction

The Bible is not a single, declarative statement of fact. It is a series of competing voices wrestling with great questions of faith. Of the many Biblical stories, three (The Exodus, The Exile, and The Crucifixion & Resurrection of Jesus) are the most foundational. Prior to each of these watershed moments our spiritual ancestors thought they had life figured out. They thought that they had God figured out, or at least had come to accept their spiritual fate. And then suddenly everything changed: forgotten slaves are rescued, an invincible nation is destroyed, the Messiah is executed and returns.

This retreat will explore these watershed moments in sacred history that motivated the authors of Scripture to write down their stories of faith for themselves and future generations. Through contemplation and art, we will ask ourselves these same questions that continue to shape our own faith journeys today: Why are we so blessed (The Exodus)? Why do we suffer so much (The Exile)? And who was Jesus of Nazareth (The Crucifixion & Resurrection)?

Week 2: Foundations of Faith (Abraham & Sarah to Joseph) – Why were we chosen?

To know one’s self, one must know one’s own history. Our origin stories are as important to us as it is to everyone’s favorite superhero.  And so to understand what it is they lost during the Exile, the authors tell the story of how they got everything in the first place.

The Patriarchs & Matriarchs of the Israelites are very human and very flawed individuals. And yet, through them, God lays the foundation for a great nation and roots them in a specific place.

This week, we will explore the themes of family and relationships. We will dig into our past and what makes us who we have become, as well as where who we will become and where we are going.

Week 3: The Exodus (Moses & the Ten Plagues) – Why are we so blessed?

In a few generations, the Israelites go from being The Chosen People to Egyptian slave. Once invited and honored guests of the Egyptian empire, the Israelites eventually become an enslaved and hated people. Trapped in a foreign land, this oppressed people are surprised by the return of the God of their ancestors come to rescue them.

This week, we will explore the themes of enslavement and abandonment. We will look at how we have been the oppressed and the oppressor. We will face our loneness and our need to be connected, to reach out.

Week 4: The Creation Myths – Why is there suffering?

In the first Creation Myth we learn about God through the way this God creates a world full of goodness and order for us from the chaos of the abyss. In the second Creation Myth we learn how the perfect world that a good and loving God created is so full of suffering and evil.

The Creation Myths in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis establish the Jewish understanding of a God that is very different from the ones that came before. These Myths also give a foreshadowing of the events and lessons that are to come later during the Babylonian Exile.

This week, we will explore the theme of blessings and consequences. We will look at what we have been given and what we can do with it.

Week 5: The Babylonian Exile – Why do bad things happen?

Even though last week covered the Creation Myths, this week we get to where things really began. That is to say, where the Bible began. It began in destruction and despair and great lose.

Many of the stories, mostly in the oral tradition, had been around long before the Babylonian Exile. However, the Bible as we have it today first began to take form during the lowest point in the sacred history of the descendants of Abraham and Sarah. And that fact is perhaps the most important of everything this course has to offer. For the Bible is not a statement of reassuring faith, it is a series of questions of faith shaken. The Bible isn’t a victory speech; it is an analysis of a great loss. It isn’t a statement of doctrine; the Bible is search for meaning and understanding.

In 587 C.E. the Babylonian Empire invades Judea, conquers Jerusalem, and destroys the Temple. And so with their nation gone and the people scattered, the Chosen People begin to ask themselves how this all could have happened to them. Their answer eventually becomes what we know today as the Bible.

This week we will explore the themes of loss and rebuilding. Just as the Babylonian Exiles had to come to terms with all they had lost and what they could do to recover, we will explore our own losses and our response to having our faith shaken.

Week 6: Incarnation – How is God made manifest in the world?

Only half of the four Gospels have Infancy Narratives and they are not the same in most respects. Also, they seem to have been added to the beginning of those Gospels last, almost like an afterthought. But, I believe, very important afterthoughts.

Traditionally, Easter and the Resurrection are seen as the foundation of Christian faith and focuses on the need for God’s mercy to lift us out of our sinful state. Alternatively, Christmas and the Incarnation offer another perspective on Christianity by focusing on how God’s grace honors our sacred origins.

This week we will explore what makes us human. We will delve into our origins and examine what that means for all those we meet.

Week 7: The Crucifixion – Who *was* Jesus of Nazareth?

The Gospels don’t quite agree on when His disciples came to know Jesus as the Messiah, but one thing this is clear: they were shocked by His arrest and execution. They were frightened and confused until the unimaginable happened.

This week we will explore the themes of confusion and misconceptions. We will examine both our preconceived notions of Jesus and how they keep up from knowing Him through the lens of the Passion.

Week 8: Resurrection – Who *is* Christ Jesus?

The four Gospels don’t portray the Apostles as the smartest group of individuals. They are quick to follow Jesus, but very slow to catch on to who he truly is. And just as things are becoming clear to them, Jesus is arrested and executed as a common criminal.

The Gospels don’t quite agree on when His disciples came to know Jesus as the Messiah, but one thing this is clear: they were shocked by His arrest and execution. They were frightened and confused until the unimaginable happened.

This week, we will explore holy surprise and true triumph.

We will break open these themes through reflection, lectio divina, writing our own midrash, creative invitations, and a vibrant forum for conversation and sharing.

You can find out more about our Lent retreat at this link>>

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Photo © Christine Valters Paintner

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