Things I Didn’t Know I Loved
(after Nazim Hikmet)
I never knew how much I loved
heavy rain on a Sunday morning
curled in bed with coffee
a Morse code tapping the windows
telling me I have no reason to leave.
I didn’t realize how much I adored
peonies until one May afternoon
I spent four hours photographing
the bouquet you brought me
for no reason on our dining table.
I never knew how much I cherished
the alchemy taking place in kitchens
until I mixed wheat and yeast together,
felt it sticky in my hands,
and from the oven emerged bread.
I didn’t know how much I loved
this sagging body of mine,
until one day the mirror showed
me not scars and marks, but a story
of what it means to endure.
I never knew how much I loved
the forest until I walked so far
and so long my arms were coated
with moss and my life became
a fairy tale written in the snow.
—Christine Valters Paintner, The Wisdom of Wild Grace
Dearest monks and artists,
The poem above is from my forthcoming collection of poems and was inspired by this poem by poet Nazim Hikmet. One of my favorite ways to dive into my own poetry writing is to read other people’s poems and find a line that shimmers for me, much as in the practice of lectio divina, and then use that line as an anchor and inspiration for what I write. If the original line stays in the poem, then of course, credit is always given, although sometimes by the end of the poem, the line has been transformed into something different.
I am delighted to share the next in the series of poetry videos above!
I would venture to say that during this time of global pandemic and various levels of quarantine, we may all have discovered various things that we didn’t realize how much we loved before this all happened. I know for myself, the simple pleasures of daily life have been magnified – going for walks, spending time with John, snuggling with Sourney, cooking nourishing meals, gardening with my herbal planters on my patio, and just sitting in silence – are a few of the things I have come to treasure even more deeply in these challenging days. I am a hermit at heart, I have known that for a very long time, but now is the opportunity to practice it more diligently than I usually am able to.
Here is a short excerpt from the first chapter of my book The Artist’s Rule on silence and solitude:
An essential element of committing to the monastic way is cultivating a place for silence and solitude. Like the rest at the end of a busy week that comes with Sabbath or the few moments of pause in savasana at the end of a yoga practice, across traditions, the nourishing dimension of silence is honored and uplifted. Silence is the element which holds everything together. Entering into silence means to enter into an encounter with the one who ushered us from the great silence, who spoke us into being out of the wide expanse of silent presence.
Silence can be challenging. Not just because the world we live in conspired to fill each moment with noise – from radios to television to movies to music to urban sounds of traffic and the congestion that comes with people living close together – but there is also a fear of entering into silence. When we are used to living at a distance from our deep center, caught up in the surface chatter, dropping down into the silent pool of God’s presence can evoke fearfulness. What might we discover when we pause long enough to really hear? And yet, as Thomas Merton wrote, we each have a “Vocation to Solitude.” This vocation means:
to deliver oneself up, to hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hills, or sea, or desert; to sit still while the sun comes up over that land and fills its silences with light. To pray and work in the morning and to labour and rest in the afternoon, and to sit still again in meditation in the evening when night falls upon that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and with stars. This is a true and special vocation. There are a few who are willing to belong completely to such silence, to let it soak into their bones, to breathe nothing but silence, to feed on silence, and to turn to the very substance of their life into a living and vigilant silence. –Thomas Merton
Silence isn’t something we do, although we can still ourselves to receive its gifts. It is not a personal capacity, although we can cultivate practices of becoming more present. Meister Eckhart described silence as “The central silence is the purest element of the soul, the soul’s most exalted place, the core, the essence of the soul.” This is the inner monastery within each of our hearts, a place of absolute stillness.
I echo Merton’s invitations here: Let yourself belong to silence, let it soak into your bones, nourish you, be the air you breathe. A commitment to silence is at the heart of nurturing a contemplative practice and creative life. In the silence you will discover the Great Artist from whom you emerged, you will sense the pulse of creative energy through your being so that you slowly grow to recognize that creating is your birthright and that you join your work with this ultimate work. But the call is nourished by the silence. We continue to return to this open space to remember who we are.
We will be journeying through this book in community starting tomorrow and through the autumn months (or spring if you are in the southern hemisphere!) Consider joining us for Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist if you long to cultivate your inner monk and artist with support of kindred souls.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Video credit: Luke Morgan at Morgan Creative