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What She Does Not Know Poetry Video ~ A Love Note From Your Online Abbess

What She Does Not Know – Poem Video from Abbey of the Arts on Vimeo.

What She Does Not Know
(for unsuspecting Selkies everywhere)

She does not know there is a reason
she always feels out of place
her life rigid and small, like living in a doll’s house
a marriage more trap than longing
and when she chokes on courtesy and convention
the salt which burns her throat is not just tears.

She does not know that when she stands
on the sea’s wild edge and can finally
breathe, dream, weep,
her body strains forward
seawater in her veins, barnacles behind her knees
waves lap her ankles, thighs, torso, her cold breasts.

She does not know that when she swims
in that wide expanse and the swell
pulls her under, she does not need to struggle,
the sea has been longing for her as well –
everyone onshore aghast –
her daughter will grieve and wail and awaken

from dreams of the deep dark water
calling her name also.

—Christine Valters Paintner, The Wisdom of Wild Grace

Dearest monks and artists,

Last week’s poem explored the fairy tale of “The Handless Maiden” and this week’s explores the myth of the Selkie, my other favorite archetypal story. While the handless maiden finds her healing and restoration in the forest, the Selkie is always called back to the sea for her healing. (We have a whole self-study retreat on the Selkie story for anyone interested).

What these stories have in common is a reclaiming of the sacred feminine dimension (and we all have both feminine and masculine energies within us) and a return to wild places to facilitate the healing that we seek for old wounds and things that hold us back. The woods and the ocean call to us to make the journey into them letting go of old maps. It is in this yielding to their mysteries that we discover something true about ourselves. These wild archetypal landscapes have always been a place of healing and renewal. The ancient monks seeking out the desert as a place of radical encounter with the divine, the Celtic monks following their inspiration and seeking out their own wild edges in forests and seas. This time of pandemic has thrust us into the wilderness, we can resist it or let it transform us.

This is the final poem video in our current series inspired by my forthcoming poetry collection. I hope you have enjoyed viewing them as much as I have enjoyed sharing them.

I am leading an online retreat next weekend October 3-4, hosted by Mercy by the Sea retreat center, to explore these themes of seeking The Wisdom of Wild Grace in our lives. It is the feast of St. Francis next Sunday and we will draw inspiration from his intimacy with creatures and the natural world, along with other saints and mystics to ask ourselves how we long to bring more wildness into our lives. Each session will take its inspiration from one of the saint and animal poems I have written.

I crave a wide sea of wordless moments that allow me to express myself in another language, one more ancient and primal. I want to become a disciple of silence and hear in that shimmering soundlessness the voice of the One who whispers in stillness, whose singing vibrates in stones, who out of the silence calls forth a radical commitment of which I do not yet know the shape.

If those words shimmer for you, consider joining a community of kindred spirits over two days together of poetry, music, gentle movement, creative exercises, and time for sharing. Give yourself the gift of sanctuary time, time apart to renew and restore your inner wildness. I would love to see you there with me.

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Video credit: Luke Morgan at Morgan Creative

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