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Monk in the World Guest Post: Sherri Hansen

We are thrilled and delighted to be releasing a brand new compilation of songs, curated from some wonderful musicians we know and love. These are songs for Celtic seekers as they are inspired by the tradition of pilgrimage in Ireland and accompany Christine’s newest book which will be released in September 2018 from Ave Maria Press – The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seekers of the Sacred. For six weeks we will be featuring the musicians from this album who so generously agreed to share their beautiful music with our community for this project.

First up is Sherri Hansen who wrote “Circle Me God.” Read her whole reflection below and to hear a clip of the song go to the album page at CDBaby here>>

This past March, I returned to Ireland to experience my second pilgrimage, “The Soul’s Slow Ripening.” Despite having traveled there two years prior, for “Monk in the World,” I was plagued by a tremendous amount of anxiety prior to the trip. I wasn’t exactly sure why as I have travelled alone to Europe in the past and had a marvelous experience on the previous pilgrimage. Two years ago, I was healing in the aftermath of my mother’s death at the end of 2013, and my trip to Ireland was a tribute for her and a quest to see places where my Irish ancestors lived. That journey was an incredibly cathartic and cleansing experience and I truly felt that I laid my mother’s spirit to rest there.

I was taken aback then at my sense of trepidation and angst over returning. I’ve struggled with anxiety issues for my entire life but hadn’t felt that level of fear for a long while. I had a lot on my plate and the timing which had felt right the previous summer when I committed to the trip, didn’t feel so right all of a sudden. I also find being in groups of unfamiliar people unsettling. Yet, I knew there was a reason why I was drawn to returning, so I trusted the Spirit and went.

My anxiety lessened once I reached Galway and immersed in the pilgrimage. Christine Valters-Paintner, has a lovely collection of icons of various saints and spiritual figures, many of them Celtic. I was particularly drawn to an image of St. Ciaran from the ancient monastic settlement of Clomacnoise. Above the image, was the phrase, “Circle me God, keep fear without, joy within.” Fear and anxiety, that have been so prevalent throughout my life, have also prevented me from experiencing joy, especially in the present moment, and particularly as I prepared for and began the pilgrimage. As I sat repeating the phrase over and over, I thought it would make a good chant to remind me to let go of fear in order to allow myself to experience. It didn’t take long to start humming a melody that would fit and be Celtic-like.

I then looked to see the source of the phrase and a Google search lead me to a poem by David Adams called Circle Me God. I added more verses based on the poem and soon had a 4-verse chant of couplets, each a prayer to keep something negative out, and something positive in. At the retreat’s end, I was able to share the song with the other pilgrims. A few felt strongly that including a verse of “hate without and love within” was important and spoke to them so I added it.

When I returned home I asked my good friend and colleague, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, a frequent musical contributor to the Abbey if he would be willing to work with me to record it. We recorded it with me playing keyboard harp patch, flute, and tin whistle and singing. I would like to share it with you and hope that it may touch you in some place in your lives as it has already touched me.

Sherri Hansen, MD, OblSB, is a psychiatrist in private practice, a Benedictine Oblate, a church musician and composer, and passionate gardener in Madison, Wisconsin. You can learn more about her and her music at:




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2 Responses

  1. I love the bit I heard of your song, Sherri! I too have had a similar experience with the lifelong anxiety and a recent event. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us!! <3

  2. Thank you Sherri – it is lovely to read of the whole process of your song coming out into the world – very encouraging ?