Dear monks, artists, and pilgrims,
This week’s love note is an excerpt from a written interview that Bearings, the journal of the Collegeville Institute, posted with me this week about my newest book Earth, Our Original Monastery.
In the book’s introduction you identify your vocation as contemplative. How do you engage with the existential dread and anxiety of climate change?
Being a contemplative is the only thing that saves me from complete despair. Yet, even so, I still experience those feelings of dread and anxiety. There are beliefs which are the core of my contemplative practice: one, a deep trust in Love as the foundation of everything and the ground of all being; and two, the ability to actively cultivate a relationship to this abiding Love. When I feel anxious and fearful, I return to the belief that beneath everything is Love.
I fundamentally believe the contemplative practices of sitting in silence and walking in the woods enable me to deepen into that trust. Additionally, I believe in a God of complete mystery while honoring the limits of my own imagination. I trust that God is more expansive than anything I can imagine, which gives me a great deal of hope because it means my own limited imagination isn’t the final word on everything. There is a much bigger imagination out there.
The thrust of the book is encouraging people to cultivate intimacy with the earth. If you are in love with this source of beauty, grace, sustenance and nourishment, you will invest in preserving it however you can.
But what do we do with the dread and the despair that we feel and how do we sustain ourselves? How do we get up in the morning and continue doing the necessary work of showing up for ourselves and for one another with compassion? For me, I spend time walking in the woods as a way to be connected to the seasonal rhythms unfolding around me, the diversity of life in all its forms, and to be present to the wisdom that comes through other ways of knowing that are more intuitive and embodied.
In a letter from the Canadian Catholic bishops regarding the environmental crisis they describe three responses: prophetic, aesthetic, and contemplative. The prophetic response speaks out about justice issues and often works on political levels. The aesthetic response is the concrete actions we might take in our everyday lives, like fasting from using plastic or trying to reduce our meat consumption. The contemplative response is really the heart of my book, that is, giving ourselves the opportunities to deepen our sense of love and kinship with Earth.
In chapter five, “Earth as the Original Icon,” you discuss the necessity of lament and how it can influence our approach to the climate crisis.
I’m influenced by Walter Brueggemann’s book, The Prophetic Imagination, and his idea of lament as an essential act of both truth telling and grieving. We live in this culture which rejects grief as too messy, too time-consuming, and too burdensome. And yet, I believe deeply that lament allows us to fully experience grief, rage, sadness, and fear, which unleashes resources within us to be able to see whatever we are grieving in a new way.
Part of our limited imagination comes from limiting our capacity for full emotional expression and response. Who doesn’t feel incredible sadness and grief over the fires in Australia, California, and the Amazon rainforest, over the devastating loss of species, over the poisoning of our seas with plastic and oil spills? We need to allow space to feel these feelings. The lament itself is a way of saying, “This is what’s wrong, this is what needs to change.” It leads to acts of justice.
I am so very excited to be hosting a Virtual Book & Album Launch on Earth Day, which is this Wednesday, April 22nd at 9 am Pacific/12 noon Eastern/5 pm Ireland-UK time. I will be sharing more about the Earth Monastery book and reading some poems from my forthcoming collection The Wisdom of Wild Grace. I’ll be joined by wonderful Abbey of the Arts colleagues and wisdom council members – Betsey Beckman (who will share some of the gesture prayers she has created) and Simon de Voil & Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (who will share some of the songs on the new album which companions the book). Please join us for this free event! (It will also be recorded)
This week we have the next installment of our Monk in the World series on the practice of conversion and a new Monk in the World guest post. If you missed my podcast conversation on Encountering Silence you can find Episode 1 here and Episode 2 here.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo © Christine Valters Paintner