The soul is made of love and must ever strive to return to love. Therefore, it can never find rest nor happiness in other things. By its very nature it must seek God, who is love. –Mechthild of Magdeburg (1208-1282)
Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. About how I believe it is at the foundation of everything. This deep knowing is what helps sustain me in dark times. Even as we are bombarded by news of violence and destruction daily, Love also helps me to remember the tremendous beauty to be found in the world. Kindness, presence, loving attention, speaking truth, witnessing beauty, resting in wonder – these are all acts of love in a world that desperately needs reminders.
On September 17th we are starting a ten-month journey through some of the Christian mystics exploring the theme of love as a creative force in the world. I will be leading several of these retreats myself – launching us with Hildegard of Bingen, then later in the series Anthony the Great and the desert tradition, Benedict of Nursia, and Kevin of Glendalough (the first and last of those will be co-led with Betsey Beckman) – and we have a wonderful array of guest teachers as well.
I am also starting to dream into a future book project I am contracted to write. Some of you might remember the Women on the Threshold program I co-led back in fall of 2012 when I first moved to Vienna. Inspired by that series I will be writing a book about seven medieval women mystics who offer some wisdom to those of us at the threshold of midlife and beyond.
As part of this writing journey, I am hoping and planning (health and Covid-allowing) to make a series of pilgrimages to visit the sites of these holy women in Europe. One of these women is Mecthtild of Magdeburg who was a Beguine in Germany in the 13th century. Beguines were a remarkable movement of lay women who chose to live together without formal vows and work together to serve the most vulnerable of their communities. The dancing monk icon above was created by Marcy Hall for our series. (I am delighted that Sister Laura Swan who wrote a wonderful book on the Beguines will be leading one of our retreats).
For my part, I am excited to be dreaming into a series of personal retreats to visit the places connected to Brigid, Hildegard, Mechtild, Teresa, Julian, Clare, and Angela of Foligno over the next year or two. I will, of course, be sharing some of my discoveries along the way in these newsletters as well as in the book I am writing. They all preached Love at the core of their message and cultivated that deep trust through a commitment to contemplative practice.
My next poetry collection due out in spring 2023 is titled Love Holds You: Poems and Devotions for Times of Uncertainty. I am also working right now on finishing up my manuscript The Love of Thousands: Honoring Angels, Saints and Ancestors which will be published in fall 2023. I loved offering that material for the Lent retreat this past spring and inspired by the conversations there I have now added in several chapters so it will be an even richer resource. So you can see Love really is threading its way through everything I am focusing on these days!
What a gift, as always, to be perched here on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean writing about the contemplative life from the many different perspectives the monastic tradition offers. There are so many treasures waiting to be uncovered or beheld in new ways. Thank you for being such willing and enthusiastic recipients of this work! Your commitment to cultivating Love in the world does make a difference!
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Dancing Monk Icon © Artist Marcy Hall