Dearest monks and artists,
Like many of you, global events lately feel quite overwhelming at times and I ponder and pray about my response. One thing I keep coming back to is a sense of deep certainty that the way of the monk and path of the artist make a difference in the world. What distinguishes these two ways of being is that each are called to live deliberately on the edges of things, in active resistance to a world that places all its value on speed and productivity, that reduces people to producers and consumers, and reduces the earth to a commodity for our use.
The longer I follow this path in my life, the more I consider hospitality to be one of the most essential of all the monk's wisdom. To practice actively welcoming in what is most strange or other in my world as the very place of divine encounter – what St Benedict tells us in the Rule – is a holy challenge! But in a world where otherness sparks so much fear and policies which further divide us, learning to embrace the gift of the stranger, both within our own hearts, as well as in the world is a true balm.
This is what Jesus taught as well through his actions everyday – welcoming the outcast, the stranger, the foreigner. Always breaking boundaries to witness to immense love over fear.
Perhaps the other great essential for me is the practice of silence and solitude. Making time for a deep listening, rather than reacting to what we hear. What are the sacred invitations being whispered in quiet moments? And can we resist a culture of noise where we are bombarded with endless cycles of news.
In her book Mystical Hope, Cynthia Bourgeault writes that "(Mystical hope) has something to do with presence — not a future good outcome, but the immediate experience of being met, held in communion, by something intimately at hand." Allowing time to feel met by the divine and held in communion is a reminder for us as we return to the demands of our lives and seek to make wise and compassionate choices. It helps to nourish hope deep within us.
In my book The Artist's Rule, I include a favorite scripture passage:
Now I am revealing new things to you, things hidden and unknown to you, created just now, this very moment. Of these things you have heard nothing until now. So that you cannot say, Oh yes, I knew this. (Isaiah 48:6-7 – Jerusalem Bible translation)
It is a reminder that more than ever we need people willing to pause and listen, to open their hearts to what is uncomfortable, and to hold space and attention until the new thing emerges.
I don't have the answers, but I do have ancient practices which help to sustain me when I would rather run away. Perhaps if we keep practicing together, we will hear whispers of a new beginning.
(We are starting an online journey in community through my book The Artist's Ruleon May 28th, you can join us at this link).
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo © Christine Valters Paintner