Dear monks, artists and pilgrims,
Lent is a powerful season of transformation. Forty days in the desert, stripped of our comforts, and buoyed by our commitment to daily practice so that we might arrive at the celebration of Easter deepened and renewed. In many ways this Lent was far more austere than any of us anticipated.
Often, we arrive at the glorious season of resurrection and celebrate for that one day, forgetting it is a span of 50 days, even longer than the Lenten season through which we just traveled. Easter is not just the day when the tomb was discovered empty, but a span of time when days grow longer in the northern hemisphere, blossoms burst forth, and we are called to consider how we might practice this resurrection in our daily lives.
The soul's journey through Lent is like a pilgrimage exploring inner desert places, landscapes, thresholds, and the experience of exile. Ultimately, pilgrimage always leads us back home again with renewed vision. Resurrection is about discovering the home within each one of us, remembering that we are called to be at home in the world, even as we experience ourselves exiled again and again.
Because we are still very much in the midst of a pandemic, it likely feels like Lent has settled in to stay with us for a very long while. We are in the midst of a Good Friday and Holy Saturday cycle of loss and unknowing again and again.
The liturgical year, however, is not a linear passage of time. It is cyclical and spiral, returning to previous moments with new vision. It is the heart of kairos time, which is time outside of time. I know many of us are forgetting what day of the week it is because they all run into one another now.
And in this model of time moving in spirals, it means that even though we move into the radiant season of Easter, we do not leave behind the invitations of the desert or the call of grief. To be human means to hold all of these layers together.
As a poet, when I am asked what I write about most often, my response is that for me poetry helps me to be present to a world where terrible things happen and where amazing things happen, sometimes all at once. The grief, the loss, the unknowing, the fear of what is to come, they are all real. The gratitude, the kindness, the caring, the wonder at simple moments, they are all real as well.
The Gospel readings during the Easter season are about the resurrection appearances of Jesus: Thomas doubts and needs to touch Jesus' wounds; the nets that were empty are pulled ashore overflowing with fish; the disciples on the road to Emmaus recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread; Jesus breathes on them the gift of the Spirit; and of course the celebration of breath and fire at Pentecost when everyone was most afraid of what was to come. In all of these stories, there is a sense of generosity and abundance, of caring for needs, and of finding solace and assurance in the wounds. Perhaps these are just the stories we need for these times.
During these dark days of uncertainty, I have been making room for grief. Music and movement become the container for my sorrow. But I have also been making room for laughter, for affection, for connection with others.
The truth of resurrection isn’t that we hold onto some false banner of hope, denying the reality around us. Resurrected life means we know our woundedness as a place where grace can also enter in.
Tomorrow (Monday, April 13th) we are beginning a virtual 8-week pilgrimage together in community through my book The Soul of a Pilgrim. As I was leading the Novena last month, the image of pilgrimage shimmered for me often. I think the archetype of pilgrimage can be a helpful one to navigate these times because to be a pilgrim means to respond to a call (one that is often not of our own choosing), to discern what we want to carry with us, to lean into uncertainty and unknowing as wise teachers, and to know that we are invited to begin again and again, each time we stumble.
It would be wonderful to have you join us if you feel the spark and inclination to be in a prayerful and loving community space. I will be leading a weekly live session with a meditation and time for questions, there is a vibrant and lovingly facilitated forum, and we have several creative explorations each week including writing, photography, and gentle movement. We are also offering a sliding scale to be sure that the program is accessible to anyone who wants to make this journey with us.
Also below we have our next installment in the Monk in the World series, a new Monk in the World guest post from Abbey Wisdom Council member Lita Quimson, and a few other places you can find Christine on the web (including parts 1 and 2 of her interview with the wonderful Encountering Silence podcast.
From the Abbey Archives, I wrote two articles for U.S. Catholic magazine about pilgrimage: 8 Practices of a Good Pilgrimage provides a good overview of the themes of my book The Soul of a Pilgrim and 7 Pilgrimages You Can Go On Now offers some inspiration for these times when travel is not possible.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD REACE
Photo © Christine Valters Paintner