Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
In November and December we are releasing our brand new 7-day prayer cycle of morning and evening prayers on the theme of The Soul of a Pilgrim. The audio podcasts for Day 2 morning and evening prayer are being released today on the theme of Packing Lightly! This is one of the many free resources we offer to our community to help support your contemplative practice and prayer. (If you are able to support this work financially in any way, we gratefully accept contributions at this link.)
Our pilgrimage through the wisdom of the mystics continues next Saturday when we welcome Sister Laura Swan to teach about the Beguines, a lay movement of women in medieval Europe. We will be gathering together on the feast of Mechtild of Magdeburg, one of the Beguines who also wrote beautifully of her loving devotion to God.
The following is an excerpt from the introduction to Sister Laura’s wonderful book The Wisdom of the Beguines: The Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women’s Movement:
You are time-traveling to the medieval court beguinage in Flanders. You are greeted at the gate by one of the older beguines. Once inside, you see families who must have been spending the night in the spacious courtyard, safe from marauding gangs. Children are chasing chickens and geese, and laundry is drying on lower tree branches. Some of these families might head back to the countryside now that the busy market days are over. You approach the beguine’s home you had visited before and hear the laughter of children inside: your host and her fellow beguines have taken in three orphaned girls, plucked off the wharf and saved from the brothels to be educated and trained in cloth finishing.
After a boisterous meal of lamb and vegetables in honor of Eastertide, you all leave for the beguinage’s church. Other beguines, many accompanied by children, and even a few men, are joining you there. To your surprise, the bell begins to toll. In parish churches, one only hears the tolling of bells from High Mass and significant events like the death of a ruler.
Inside their church, the beguines carry the wooden chairs and desks toward the walls, thus clearing a large space for easy movement. Some elderly beguines sit down on the chairs along the walls; other beguines set up and tune musical instruments.
The music and singing commences; the songs are lively and familiar. You happily join in. The beguines are clapping to the beat of the music and begin a gentle swaying movement. With the third song, you all enter into an informal, gentle dance, moving first toward the left and then toward the right. Feet stamp and hands sway in rhythm to the music. Soon beguines are weaving around one another in a style echoing folk dances. The church is filled with harmonious sound and movement. The children, who had shared in the dancing, at some point tucker out and rest for a while near the elders.
The beguine community enters into song after songs—songs of poetic aspiration and Scripture. The church interior is warm; skin glows. Eventually the activities quiet down and the beguines stand or sit in silence. Some of the elders light candles. The magistra of the beguinage climbs the steps to the pulpit and there seems to be a divine energy flowing among the beguines. Your host excitedly whispers that their leader speaks through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Into the silence the magistra begins:
“If you want faith, pray. If you want hope, pray. If you want kindness, pray. If you want poverty, pray. If you want obedience, pray. If you want integrity, pray. If you want humility, pray. If you want gentleness, pray. If you want strength, pray. If you want any virtue, pray.”
(Excerpt reprinted with permission from BlueBridge Books)
If this vibrant and creative movement inspires you on your journey, join us for an online mini-retreat next Saturday facilitated by Sister Laura. I am delighted to welcome her to be with us, she is a Benedictine sister and was the Prioress at St. Placid Priory where I am a Benedictine oblate.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Dancing Monk Icon by Marcy Hall (available for purchase on Etsy)