In a Dark Time
Do not rush to make meaning.
When you smile and say what purpose
this all serves, you deny grief
a room inside you,
you turn from thousands who cross
into the Great Night alone,
from mourners aching to press
one last time against the warm
flesh of their beloved,
from the wailing that echoes
in the empty room.
When you proclaim who caused this,
I say pause, rest in the dark silence
first before you contort your words
to fill the hollowed out cave,
remember the soil will one day
receive you back too.
Sit where sense has vanished,
control has slipped away,
with futures unravelled,
where every drink tastes bitter
despite our thirst.
When you wish to give a name
to that which haunts us,
you refuse to sit
with the woman who walks
the hospital hallway, hears
the beeping stop again and again,
with the man perched on a bridge
over the rushing river.
Do not let your handful of light
sting the eyes of those
who have bathed in darkness.
—Christine Valters Paintner
Dear monks, artists and pilgrims,
Ireland went officially into lockdown mode a week ago although we are allowed to go to the grocery store, to medical appointments, and exercise within 2 km of home. Thankfully our daily walk with our dog Sourney is 2 km up the canal and then 2 km back down the river.
I certainly never imagined we’d be spending the last few weeks of our sabbatical time in quarantine. The actual retreating is not hard for us as we both love to spend time alone at home, John and I can write for hours at our desks and then meet in the kitchen for dinner and to watch a movie or series in the evenings.
When all this started unfolding a couple of weeks ago, the call to offer the free Novena came with such clarity. It was such a gift for me to really remind myself how much these ancient mystical and contemplative practices have to offer us in the uncertainty of our lives. The other gift was being reminded what an amazing global community the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks is.
As I sink back into quieter rhythms again, I feel tremendously blessed to have my days filled with writing, art, music, and movement. A typical day for an online Abbess certainly begins with some journaling, poetry writing, meditation, and yoga.
From there I’ve been spending time writing my next book commitment due to the publisher at the end of summer, doing final edits for my poetry collection this fall, working with an artist for some illustrations for my book on Sacred Time due next spring, giving interviews in writing and on podcasts to promote Earth, Our Original Monastery – my book just released(!), promoting our new album of 14 songs to accompany it, working with our designer to create a full color postcard book of the 12 beautiful images created to accompany some of my poems in the fall collection, working with John to carve some art in lino blocks for a Mary book that I will be writing next, printing up the St Muirgen mermaid icon card and considering how to make that available for folks, praying with a series of songs we are considering for an album in spring 2021 of blessings and songs inspired by scripture, dancing with some of the gesture prayers created by my dear friend Betsey that will go in a series of videos, gathering the files for a spoken word album of me reading my poems, creating a series of poetry videos (one of which is above), and of course times of rest and stillness in between.
My days right now are filled with visual art, poetry, prose, dance, and music, and it is the perfect antidote to the climate of anxiety and fear in the world right now.
Rather than a distraction from those things, immersing myself in imaginative possibility and the creative vision of other artists helps me to see something much bigger and vaster than myself, beneath the surface are endless possibilities coming into birth.
When you feel anxiety rising, find a poem you love and sit with it. Read it again and again until it becomes knit into your bones and memory. Let a phrase become your prayer and a compass for your days.
Play a song you love and let it carry you into the river of grief, releasing all that has been resisted until it flows no more, dance with it, and then rest back into the stillness.
Find a piece of art you adore and enter into its landscape in your imagination. Let it carry you to new places.
Art helps us sit in the uncertainty, the mystery, the paradox of being human without needing to resolve anything. It calls us into the heart of grief and joy, co-mingled. The longer we can rest there and resist our need to control and plan, the sooner we live our way into a new way of being that has its own gifts for the future we are creating. We are in this together. I am weeping each day and laughing each day.
In addition to the new poem and poem video above, as well as the many resources below including our next installment in the Monk in the World series, the final in A Different Kind of Fast series for Lent, another Monk in the World guest post, I have a few links to other places on the web you can find my work:
- This week I led a free hour-long webinar for Paraclete Press on Celtic spirituality and the practice of threshold. You can watch the recording here. The scripture passage I use for the meditation is Jeremiah 6:16 – Stand at the crossroads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way lies, and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.
- My poem “Ross Errilly Friary” was published in the Irish literary journal Crannog. Because they were not able to do a live launch this time of the issue, they invited contributors to record themselves reading their poem for a virtual launch. You can find mine along with a number of other wonderful poems being read at this link. Pour a cup of tea and let poetry steady you.
- Virtual Book & Album Launch – on Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22nd at 12 noon eastern time, I will be joined by Betsey Beckman, Simon de Voil, and Richard Bruxvoort Colligan for a live webinar session where we will be formally launching Earth, Our Original Monastery book and album. Reflections, poems, songs, gesture prayers and more! Register here to join us.
- Ave Maria Press is still having a big sale on the e-book versions of most of my titles with them including my newest Earth, Our Original Monastery ($7.99 on Amazon.com) and other titles as low as 99 cents.
- From the Abbey Archives – a reflection on Holy Saturday: The Space Between and resting in the paradox. Click here to read.
- I was interviewed this week at the wonderful podcast Encountering Silence about my newest book Earth, Our Original Monastery and wild silence and the cloister of the earth. Tune into Part 1 here.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Video © Christine Valters Paintner (text/voice) and Travis Reed (video)
You can share the video at this link>>