Dearest monks and artists,
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Please see the note below about joining us today for our live prayer service (we love gathering together in real time). The video above is from Dr. Kayleen Asbo who is offering a retreat on The Way of the Hermit next weekend.
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This year of pandemic, political instability, and continued climate crisis has shaken most of us. We feel unsteady, overwhelmed, perhaps struggling to find hope in the midst of continual difficult news, especially about numbers of infections and those dying around the world. For those in the U.S. the added civil unrest and violent uprising a the Capitol is further destabilizing. There is so much grief to carry.
When the pandemic first hit in full force in March 2020 and many places went into lockdown, John and I were still on our sabbatical but we felt compelled to do something, to gather our community so we could pray together and offer one another some stability so we offered our Novena in Times of Unraveling. It was as much a gift for us as for others to feel connected in such unprecedented times. I felt a shift within me, an even deeper sense of how we are community for one another here at Abbey of the Arts. We followed with an online retreat on The Soul of a Pilgrim, again to support us all in moving through uncertainty.
The Christian tradition is filled with stories of how it is when we are broken open, when we are most in need, when we cry out in vulnerability, when we lament and wail How long O God, when we must ask others for support, when we feel a profound sense of not knowing, that divine grace enters in and reveals something much bigger than we can imagine ourselves. We so often try to rely on our own wills and visions, when we are reminded the divine source is so vast and is revealing new things in each moment.
Admitting what I don’t know and where I still have places to grow has always been an important part of my spiritual practice. I love the practice of conversion as framed in St. Benedict’s Rule. I often describe it as a commitment to being always surprised by the sacred. When I grow cynical and think nothing new can happen, I am turning away from conversion. When I recognize that I can grow and stretch every day until the end of my life and never reach completion, that is conversion and also a much more exciting adventure.
I taught a poetry writing seminar recently where I said that when I start writing a poem, I don’t know how it will end, because it is the process of writing that takes me there. It is in the journey that the discoveries happen.
This is true of life as well. If I am honest, I don’t know how things will unfold. I am a planner at heart, always oriented toward the future. So my spiritual practice helps me to stay present and to keep the plans spacious enough to allow Spirit to blow through them.
When last September approached I received an email from our city university with a listing of their diploma programs. I have long been drawn to their German studies program because it is impossible to find any courses beyond beginner in the local language schools and the university program you can enter in at the second year which is intermediate and more my level. But I have never registered before because we are so often leading groups and traveling for work so I can’t make a weekly commitment. This year with the pandemic and everything online, I took the plunge and signed up even though I knew I didn’t really have the time. But the truth is I never have the time, so this year I would make the time.
It is incredibly humbling to do language studies at age 50 (even though it is a language I am familiar with and have some foundation in). And it is a great gift to step into something that both stretches me and makes me feel so uncomfortable at times and also brings me alive because it touches something ancestral in me I can’t even name, it connects me to my father and his motherline in ways I can’t explain.
As the year begins, I’ve said yes to another project that will stretch me in new ways. With growing awareness around issues of racism that affect not only the U.S. but are a global poison, I reflected on how Abbey of the Arts could be a voice for transformation of unconscious patterns and help our community to stretch and grow. There are lots of great anti-racism resources and places to learn. What we can do is to work actively to lift up voices of color in the Christian contemplative and mystical traditions to bring a rich diversity to the conversation. I mentioned last week that I will be partnering with long-time dancing monk Claudia Mair Burney in 2021 to host a series of video conversations around 11 books that we have selected from voices of color to ask the question, what new insights and awarenesses do these experiences bring to the conversation? It is called Lift Every Voice: Contemplative Voices of Color – Monthly Conversations on the Christian Mystical Tradition. In many ways I feel completely unequipped to have these conversations, other than my willingness and desire to be changed by them. Humility and conversion lead me into these spaces.
It became clear to me that humility was the word seeking me as I found myself longing for these commitments to stretch myself beyond my ordinary comfortable places. Entering into humility means to honor my gifts as a human being but also to honor my limitations. While I am seeking new ways to learn, I am also seeking deeper ways to rest as well. I want my life to continue to be a witness to a slower and more spacious way of being in the world.
We have been experimenting with small groups for our current Midwinter God retreat and we offered contemplative prayer services for Advent, all new adventures to be of service to you, our beloved community, but also to see where the Spirit might lead when we surrender into possibility. I am certain there will be many more invitations to step further into humility and open my heart to ongoing surprise and change in the year to come.
Join us today for a live prayer service!
We are celebrating the completion of our Earth Monastery Prayer Cycle video and audio podcasts. Join Simon, Betsey, Richard, and me TODAY at 8 pm Ireland/UK time (12 noon Pacific / 3 pm Eastern). More details and Zoom link here>>
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE