This Here Flesh ~ A Love Note from Your Online Abbess

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

Next Saturday, October 22nd I will be leading a retreat for Spirituality & Practice on The Wisdom of the Body: Contemplative Practices for Deep Listening.

Buddhist teacher Reginald Ray describes the body as “the last unexplored wilderness.” For the desert monks of the Christian tradition, the wilderness is the place where we can have a radical and intimate encounter with the divine.

What does it mean to take the incarnation seriously? To live as if our flesh is holy? St. Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th century Benedictine Abbess believed there was a greening life force, very similar to the eastern concepts of chi or prana, which animates us and brings us fully alive. To tend to the greening of our body and soul is an act of devotion.

We live so disconnected from the tremendous wisdom our bodies have to offer to us. Ancient practices like breath prayer, allowing our senses to become doorways to the holy, living in alignment with the slow rhythms of nature, and sacred movement to drop in and listen for how our bodies long to move and express themselves can all be ways to nourish ourselves. Contemplative ways of deep listening help us to come into a loving relationship with our bodies and find the pulse of the divine presence in our blood and bone. 

Our featured book for this month’s Lift Every Voice book club is This Here Flesh by Cole Arthur Riley. Cole has written a beautiful book of stories and reflections on embodiment inspired by conversations with her grandmother. 

She describes contemplative spirituality as “a fidelity to beholding the divine in all things. In the field, on the walk home, sitting under an oak tree that hugs my house. A sacred attention.” When we bring this sacred attention to our bodies and to our physical experience of the world, we encounter the sacred presence in all things. 

This disconnection from our bodies goes hand-in-hand with capitalism’s relentless demands on us and the worship of productivity and busyness. This impacts who we see as valuable. Cole writes: 

“We cannot help but entwine our concept of dignity with how much a person can do. The sick, the elderly, the disabled, the neurodivergent, my sweet cousin on the autism spectrum—we tend to assign a lesser social value to those whose ‘doing’ cannot be enslaved in a given output. We should look to them as sacred guides out of the bondage of productivity. Instead we withhold social status and capital, we neglect to acknowledge that theirs is a liberation we can learn from.”

I love this image of looking to those who are unable to “do” in the way our culture expects as “sacred guides out of the bondage of productivity.” Having lived with an auto-immune illness my entire adult life, it has been a profound teacher on the gift of rest and honoring my being, rather than doing. 

Cole ties this relentless working and filling our calendars to a loss of wonder:

“We have found ourselves too busy for beauty. We spin our bodies into chaos with the habits and expectations of the dominating culture, giving and doing and working. . . We live depleted of that rest which is the only reliable gateway to wonder.” 

The practice of Sabbath, of the delight and restoration of deep rest, of celebrating our bodies through slowness and pleasure, all help us to cultivate that essential practice of wonder which sustains us through difficult days and connects us to the beauty of the world. 

We encourage you to purchase and read Cole Arthur Riley’s beautiful book This Here Flesh and to listen to our conversation with her. 

If you want more support in slowing down and attuning to your body’s wisdom, please join us next Saturday for an online retreat on The Wisdom of the Body

writing have inspired new generations of activists and artists.

Tomorrow, October 17th we are offering our new Taize-inspired sacred chant with Simon!

With great and growing love,

Christine

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Dancing Monk icon by Marcy Hall (Icon available for purchase on Etsy

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