The sun slides down
the gap between houses
its amber reach crosses the grass
toward me, shadow of the elder tree
has grown long and I remember
under the mulberry spectacle of sky
how everything I love must end:
this cup of tea with steam ascending,
the dog curled right against me,
your warm hands over mine,
how this sweet leaving of day
makes me draw the world
as close as possible.
—Christine Valters Paintner
(*originally published in U.S. Catholic magazine)
Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
The poem above is part of a series of poems I wrote to honor each of the monastic Hours of the day. (You can read the whole series in Dreaming of Stones). Praying the Hours is an essential part of the life of the monk, a way of honoring the unfolding of each day, its sacred ordinariness, and a return again and again to the presence of the divine right in this moment.
Years ago I discovered the book Music of Silence by Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast, which is a beautiful and poetic exploration of the gift of the Hours. In it he invites us to consider the invitation each Hour of the day calls us into. Dawn reminds us of the gift of awakening, midday to fullness, evening to the sweetness of endings, and night to mystery and silence. This book had a significant impact on my own prayer, work, and thinking. Whether or not you pray the Hours in a formal way with the Psalms, you can pause at these thresholds and wonder at what new awareness you are being called to.
Dawn and dusk are considered threshold times in the Celtic imagination. The veil is especially thin at these moments and the Otherworld more accessible. What a gift it is to be present at the glory of a sunrise or sunset and to feel your heart come alive to the staggering beauty of the world.
In the monastic tradition another essential practice is memento mori, or remembrance of one’s own death. “Keep death daily before your eyes” wrote Benedict in his Rule. The desert mothers and fathers repeat this again and again in their wisdom sayings. When we draw close to the reality of our mortality, we are reminded again and again of how everything in our lives is gift. When I was forty I had a pulmonary embolism after a long-haul flight to Europe and in the days following my diagnosis and treatment, I wasn’t regretting not having traveled more or done more in the world. What I longed for were the simplest of things like the warmth of John’s hand in mine, the delight of our dog’s nearness. I would sit with a cup of tea grateful simply for the gift of presence.
I have another poem video for you this week, created again by Luke Morgan of Morgan Creative. This time he appears as the man in the video, so you can have a peek at the creative mind behind this series. I encourage you to pour yourself a cup of tea and read the poem above, then watch the video and see what is stirred in your own heart. When you ponder your own mortality what are the gifts you immediately want to treasure?
You can order your copy of Dreaming of Stones. I’d be so grateful if you’d consider posting a review to Amazon.com and Goodreads! It helps authors so much in getting their book seen by a wider audience.
My poem “Miriam on the Shores” was featured in Paraclete Press’ daily email newsletter for national poetry month. You can read the poem here>>
Want to dive into sacred poetry with me in Chartres, France? Join me June 10-14, 2019 for a transformative week of reading and writing poetry together (no experience necessary) and the chance to walk an ancient labyrinth. Step onto the threshold where new possibilities beckon. Register here>>
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo © Christine Valters Paintner