Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
I first met Lindsay Sudeikis at a Spiritual Directors International conference in Seattle in 2019. She was co-leading a workshop on ancestral lineage healing. It was a beautiful program and at the end I went up to introduce myself and thank her for the experience.
We discovered we had much in common. She was immersed in Catholic mystical practices and traditions (and had been a nun in a contemplative order for a period of her life). Her ancestors were from Lithuania (Baltic like my Latvian ones) and from Ireland where she travels regularly to spend time on these sacred lands. Since then she has come to Ireland several times and has stayed with us twice. I love her passionate spirit and reverence for these sacred pathways, especially those that are deeply Earth-honoring. I am excited to share her gifts with our community. Read on for a reflection from Lindsay about animism and Christian tradition which will be the theme of her retreat next Saturday.
An animist-oriented Christianity has its roots in being alive, engaged, animated, and relational with all of life; the sea, the stones, and the stardust from whence we’ve come. Animism is a cosmology – a way of orienting – which affirms that all of life is alive, not simply the humans! Anyone can be an animist. I’ve noticed over the years that often folks who are Indigenous have this animist way of being in the world. Here lies the possibility that Jesus of Nazareth, a native Middle Easterner, was an animist. That is to say he engaged with the waters as though his very life depended on them, because it did as do ours! When you sit with the Gospels and contemplate the Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, you can really start to feel into the intimacy and relationship he (and John) had with that river. So, what would it look like if we too, following his exemplar way of being in the world, became intimates with a local body of water, a nearby creek, lake, the ocean? What if we could deepen our relationship with the spirits of the water just as we are invited to deepen our relationship with God? It can be a both/and, not an either/or.
It seems one very loving, tender, and real reason Jesus walked on the earth was to show us a way of being in the world where we could be relational with all of life, not simply with our fellow human beings. He as a native Middle Easterner and as a Hebrew person experienced the landscape of his time in a direct way, not through a screen, but through direct contact with the mountains, for example. He gives some of his most poignant transmissions from the mountains; the Sermon on the Mount, Mount Tabor, and Mount Calvary. In many ancient traditions, the stones and the mountains carry the stories of our world. Even our teeth and bones are made up of these same minerals, the story keepers, if you will. Again, what would it feel like in our lives if we too, communed deeply with the stones and the mountains in the way Jesus did. We could go toward them and just be, listen and receive the transmissions for our own lives and remember our interwoven destinies; with our fellow humans along with the sea, the stardust, and the very earth beneath our feet.
Perhaps an animist-oriented Christianity could bring about the very revolution of tenderness that’s needed in our own times. And to quote the mystic lover and activist Dorothy Day, perhaps “the greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us.” I would add that being alive, engaging and seeing the life force in all beings, can help to ignite that revolution, that tender love within our own hearts. Indeed, I honor that the Author of all of Life is “I Am That I Am,” (Exodus 3:14) and at the same time, I honor that being, aliveness, anima, breath, spirit is to be found, engaged, and in relationship with all of life, with our beloved plant kin, the spirits of the wild, our benevolent ancestors, our fellow human kin, not simply the “I Am!”
Join us for Ways to Tend the Wild Heart: Exploring Christianity through an Animist Lens next Saturday!
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD REACE
Image © Christine Valters Paintner