Falling in Love with the Monastic Way ~ A Love Note from Your Online Abbess

Dearest monks and artists,

With our online retreat Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist starting later this month, I offer you an excerpt from the introduction to The Artist’s Rule which shares a bit of my story of how I came to this work of bringing the contemplative and creative paths together:

“You may be coming to this book as an artist or writer seeking spiritual practices to help ground and support your creative expression. Or you may be someone who is already familiar with the treasures of monastic tradition, but are looking for another window onto this way of life. Perhaps you have intuitively known the connections between contemplative practice and creative expressions, and this book will feel like coming home.

In a sea of titles about monastic spirituality and about creativity, this book offers a fresh lens on both by breaking open monastic practices as valuable ways to encourage and sustain a creative life. What I have discovered in my own journey is that the contemplative path allows my creativity to flourish in ways it never did before I embraced monastic practice in my life. This book is for anyone who longs for ways to integrate their spiritual path and creative longings more deeply.

Discovering the monastic way has been one of the great joys of my life. Years ago I thought the life of monks had nothing substantial to offer me in the world beyond the monastery walls. Ironically, while growing up in New York City, one of my favorite museums was The Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the north end of Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River. It was created from elements of five different medieval French monasteries. I loved wandering the cool stone hallways, gazing at the pages of illuminated manuscripts, admiring the unicorn tapestries, sitting in the peace and refreshment of the medieval garden. I was not aware of it consciously at the time, but the aesthetic dimension of monasticism had captured my heart long before I knew about the contemplative wisdom and rhythms of prayer that would one day become my spiritual home.

While I was in graduate school, I became enamored with Hildegard of Bingen, the twelfth-century Benedictine abbess who was an artist, visionary, musician, theologian, preacher, spiritual director, and healer. Her sheer creative breadth captivated me. I felt a kinship to her expansive spirit. She could be a wisdom guide for me across time. I grew curious about the context of her life and what supported her creative flourishing. As the abbess of a Benedictine community, she was, of course, deeply immersed in monastic life and practices, and so my interest in her life became the doorway into my own passion for Benedictine spirituality. Benedict’s Rule, written 1500 years ago, offers balanced and profound wisdom for living a contemplative, spirit-centered life even in today’s complex world.

Through Hildegard’s guidance, I discovered that the way of the monk is deeply connected to my path as an artist and writer. Monks have been the great preservers of literary tradition, saving many sacred texts from destruction and loss during the Middle Ages and illuminating manuscripts with gorgeous art. They have offered their gifts in the service of creating beautiful spaces of sanctuary. Monasticism has given us the great tradition of chant to immerse us in the continuous cascade of praying the Liturgy of the Hours. These ways of being in the world have been cultivated over hundreds of years of practice and offer us tremendous wisdom about what it means to live a meaningful, vital, and creative life.

When my husband and I moved to Seattle after graduate school and knew it would be home for a while, I made the journey toward becoming a Benedictine oblate. An oblate is a layperson or clerical member who makes a commitment to the prayer life and spirituality of a particular monastery and to live out the Benedictine way in her or his everyday life. St. Placid Priory is a community of sisters about an hour from where I live. The sisters and my fellow oblates offer me tremendous support in living contemplatively in the world. I have a deep love of Benedictine tradition, as well as the gifts of Celtic and desert monasticism. The monastic way is my primary path through the world and the foundation of my work in spiritual formation, direction, and teaching.”

With great and growing love,

Christine

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Photo © Christine Valters Paintner

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