Dear monks, artists, and pilgrims,
It is safe to say John and I never imagined the final quarter of our sabbatical year would be spent in quarantine and compassionate retreating during a pandemic. Of course, what makes this so unsettling for many of us is how quickly it has spread and all of a sudden our lives are disrupted in ways we hadn’t even imagined a few weeks ago. None of us ever knows what is coming in the next moment. All we can do is practice presence and prepare ourselves to become steady and resilient in the face of the coming storm.
It will take me a while to unpack the many gifts we have already received from sabbatical, gifts that have come both from extensive ancestral travel I was able to make time for and the lovely long spans of time at home in quiet rhythms and working on book projects.
Some of what we have come to discern is how nourishing it is for us to be at home and how tiring travel can be, especially for me, as someone with rheumatoid arthritis and a whole adulthood of fatigue. Entering menopause has also compounded my tiredness. And so we had already been contemplating how that might affect our future rhythms.
Then this disruption descends. As I am sure most of you have, I also have experienced my own moments of anxiety over what this means for our financial well-being with so many live programs coming up and also over my health as someone who takes an immune suppressant drug to manage my illness. Those are all very real concerns and not to be denied.
And yet, what has brought me tremendous joy and a deepened sense of purpose has been the Novena for Times of Unraveling which just ended this week on the feast of the Annunciation. Only two weeks before, on a restless night, the call came to me to offer this gift to our community and I am so grateful to have said yes. Even more so I am grateful for the over 4000 pilgrims and monks who also said yes to register and join us. The live sessions felt like such a powerful connection of love across the globe. These ancient mystical practices matter. They give us an orientation in times of confusion and loss. They connect us to the ground of love when our hearts are broken open.
The spiritual life isn’t about pretending everything is great because we believe in God. That is a form of spiritual bypassing, of not taking seriously the pain and suffering of the world. Instead, we are called to be present to the grief, the sorrow, the rage that is stirred in these times and make space for them. We are also called to make space for kindness, compassion, gratitude, and wonder within us too.
On Day 7 of our Novena our practice was gratitude which can open our hearts and shift our awareness from scarcity to abundance, from fear to love. There are a thousand things each day I am grateful for, from the simplest of moments, of food and companionship, of meaningful work, and much more. But that expression of gratitude is never a denial of the anxiety and suffering. We must hold them together in tension. Living into the paradox of a world of terrible cruelty and sorrow with a world of spectacular beauty and moments of extraordinary kindness is what it means to be a mature contemplative. To honor the both/and of our human experience.
When my initial anxiety over what all this would mean for us subsided, I was left with a clear sense of purpose. I knew that the ancient wisdom of monks and mystics had a gift for all of us today trying to live in meaningful and transformative ways. I have centered my life’s work on it, but somehow now, it feels even more vital. Perhaps because these are the kinds of circumstances which test us. Being grounded in contemplative practices doesn’t mean we don’t feel fear and anxiety, but it does mean we have deep resources that can steady us. It means we might be moved to more appreciation and kindness in the moment. It means we have practiced leaning into the Mystery and learned to grow a bit more at ease with unknowing.
Our Novena journey came to an end this week, but of course, like a pilgrimage that journey continues on in our hearts. Anyone is welcome to still access those materials. With so many expressing their heartfelt appreciation of this experience and the opportunity to connect, John and I discerned, what now? How do we continue to honor our sabbatical time and also offer resources and support during an unprecedented crisis. For now we have discerned an offering our Soul of a Pilgrim online retreat in community (April 13-June 7, 2020) which companions my book of the same title. The themes explored in this book and retreat, are themes that serve us well right now as we are all making a pilgrimage through the wilderness with no certainty of where we are heading. There is a sliding scale for payments so please feel welcome to join us whatever your financial circumstances.
So for now, our sabbatical continues. I will be showing up each Monday for 8 weeks during the next online retreat to offer more live webinars because they truly bring me much joy. We will rely on our wonderful facilitators Melissa and Amber to hold the space in the forum and witness the deep sharing and creative expression that will emerge. I can continue writing the books I am working on and keep spaciousness to my days. My own daily practices of meditation, yoga, and journaling have become lifelines and compasses. It feels like grace to be able to respond to a genuine need and I have been praying a lot with the story of Jesus healing on the Sabbath to listen into what the call is for this season now. What does sabbatical mean in light of a global pandemic? How might this sacred space I am standing in shed new light? Can I be of service and also stay grounded in a time of renewal?
I do hope to offer more reflections on Sabbath time in the coming weeks. For now, suffice it to say that we are enormously grateful for this community of kindred souls. Thank you to each of you for bringing more kindness, compassion, and love into the world. We are all in this together.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo © Christine Valters Paintner