Dearest monks and artists,
I am heading off to Scotland today to teach our Earth Monastery Intensive at the Bield retreat center in Perth with Betsey Beckman. Then we will travel together for four days on Iona, this will be our second visit and we are dreaming into a future retreat there.
St. Columcille, whose feast day was yesterday, was an Irish saint who journeyed by sea to Scotland and founded the monastery at Iona. There is a beautiful story that when he left Ireland he was overcome with grief at leaving his beloved homeland, but he felt the call to journey other places. The legend says that the night before he sailed off he spent the night sleeping on what was known as the “Flagstone of Loneliness” which was a large flat stone said to carry the grief of any person who spent the night there. It is a beautiful image of the elements, and in particular the density and gravity of stone, as an ally and support in our own tender human journeys.
This is a poem I wrote inspired by this image (first published in Boyne Berries journal and also appears in my upcoming book The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seekers of the Sacred):
Flagstone of Loneliness
"Fear not the heaviness you feel,
give your burdens back to the earth,
for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas."
–Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus
On nights when my heart is
thick with sadness and my
limbs and sighs are ballast,
I long to lie down on the
flagstone of loneliness
like Columcille before
he sailed to Iona, leaving behind
the land he loved.
What do the stones feel as
they gather our heaviness
into their granite endurance,
so patient as clouds release
their burden of rain upon them?
Even rivers part ways for boulders,
not willing to risk splitting them wide
and unleash the channel of ancient grief.
We climb rocky summits,
under the illusion we can defy
the gravity of sorrow,
hearts pounding in exhilaration
while mountains grow weightier
under tender feet.
If you sit by a stream and listen
as water makes music over rocks,
you will hear them keening.
-Christine Valters Paintner
May you find your life filled with solid stones able to help you hold the sadness you carry in you.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE