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Allowing the Soul to Ripen and Unfold ~ A love note from your online abbess

St. Kevin Holds Open His Hand

Imagine being like Kevin,
your grasping fist softens,
fingers uncurl and
palms open, rest upward,
and the blackbird
weaves twigs and straw and bits of string
in the begging bowl of your hand,
you feel the delicate weight of
speckled blue orbs descend,
and her feathered warmth
settling in for a while.

How many days can you stay,
for the shell
to fissure and crack,
awaiting the slow emergence
of tiny gaping mouths
and slick wings
that need time to strengthen?

Are you willing to wait and watch?
To not withdraw your
affections too soon?
Can you fall in love with the
exquisite ache in your arms
knowing the hatching it holds?

Can you stay not knowing
how broad those wings will
become, or how they will fly
awkwardly at first,
then soar above you

until you have become the sky
and all that remains is
your tiny shadow
swooping across the earth.

—Christine Valters Paintner

*(originally published in Skylight 47)

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

John and I arrived in Galway five and a half years ago in the midst of a life pilgrimage.  It can be hard to explain sometimes how we ended up in this place. It is certainly beautiful, perched on the edge of the ocean, with a feeling of being on the wild edges of Europe. The Irish people are genuinely warm and welcoming to us. We have ancestral connections to this land, and so something in our blood draws us to this place.

After years of claiming the path of monastic spirituality as the one most life-giving for us, it makes perfect “sense” that we would land in Ireland, a place where monasticism flourished for so many centuries in a unique form from more Roman-centered monasticism.

Here on this Irish soil we discover the sheer plenitude of monastic ruins within an hour of where we live, because it was so much a vibrant part of the culture. We immerse ourselves in the stories of saints like Brigid, Brendan, Patrick, and Columcille, hearing them whisper across the landscape.

We find a path that is more about following one’s own ripening and unfolding rather than looking for the straight path and plan. There is a wonderful story about St. Kevin, who founded the holy city of Glendalough, south of Dublin. In his prayer, kneeling with arms outstretched and palms open, a blackbird lands in his hand and nests. He feels her laying eggs and realizes he has to stay in this position until the birds are hatched. It is a marvelous description of holy yielding of our own agendas, to the birthing happening already around and within us.

This monastic path calls us to let go of our own plans. This is the beauty of this ancient way. It teaches us through stories and practice and very concrete way to let go of plans and surrender to the Divine current carrying us to our own places of resurrection.

My newest book coming in September, The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seekers of the Sacred is about a way of discernment that is more spiral, less linear, more about ripening and unfolding, than planning and striving.

If you pre-order you can receive a free gift from me to you of an online mini-retreat. E-mail a copy of your receipt to my wonderful assistant Melinda and she will send you the gift.

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Dancing Monk Icon © Marcy Hall at Rabbit Room Arts

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